SCALPING: Void – album review and interviewSCALPING: Void

Houndstooth 

DL | LP | CD

Out  29th April

At last the debut from SCALPING. A band dipping their toes so deep into the midway point between the polarities of hardcore and techno that their entire heads have been submerged, unable to even speak of what they have seen. The result of this willing exploration of the abyss in the face of whatever toils, triumphs, and tribulations arrived with it, is Void.

Released on Houndstooth, due on the 29th of April, the band are in no short supply of ticking all the right boxes in the kind of ways that make a band’s climax before the peak is reached an increasing obsession for any fan of anyone related to The Bug or Burial, Merzbow or Mogwai, Underworld or Overmono, Massive Attack or Black Sabbath, Killing Joke or Sleaford Mods. These metaphorical boxes being: a tour with Squarepusher;  sold-out shows twice in two weeks at the Roundhouse; a remix EP called Flood released last October, preceded by a mind-bending gateway into a gamut of their signature splicing of styles on their Flood EP; and an equally mind-blowing single Deadlock. It symbolises the contemporary relocation of crazed, basement-rave energy into a rock band’s garage, a sensation to soak your clothes to the bones below, a stink to overthink, (and then some, and gets away with it).

It cannot be reduced to binary. Binary of right and wrong. Binary of strictly this and that. Fuck that. A binary between what? Between analogue and digital? Between rock and electronic? More appropriately, why not a dialogue, a discourse, between those lifeforms, those narratives instead. Why the hell not. As much Judas Priest, Joy Division, Jesus Lizard, Jean Michel Jarre, AND Jeff Mills as OR and nothing else on either side.

It’s perhaps by chance, or actually, as part of some plan to experimentally bridge both the best worlds of ‘electronica’ and ‘rock’, the classics and cult-classics nerds in their Metalheadz t-shirts obsess over in proto-metal or post-rock worlds, who would be blind to all they really have to offer. An entire world blooming the more it burns behind the doors of the Bristolian four-piece, revealing a richer, deeper, darker, more immersive listen the more one investigates what lurks and churns in the gloaming behind its surface. It’s the sound of a band with a beating heart, a palpitating brain, dilated and deranged eyes, biting its nails, blisters on their fingers but with blood on the computer keys, a crack in the screen, a uniquely human groove entirely their own distilling the elements of what we understand about rock and techno, only to rebuild it back up again with a pair of bollocks to counteract, or possibly counterpoint, the dirty, working hardware it often hides behind.

An insightful interview with the band gave me a glimpse into how the band operate, unwitting agendas leading to their unique sound, establishing themselves as carefully curating creators of something finely-tuned, something dark, something direct, something distinct- “I think we’re just interested in exploring the space in between these two worlds, we’re still working out the best way these worlds can co-exist and trying to have fun with it – I’d like to think people can see and hear that. There are aspects of both guitar music and dance/electronic music that we love and hate”.

Blood Club’s brooding, sedated heartbeat warmly pulsating within sharp shards of metal buzzing with warehouse ambiance establishes the group’s intention to refine and refocus the once-golden rule that dictated the directions of their tracks prior to Void (”all loudness, no nuance’’). In the sense it presents the SCALPING we once knew for their stylistically progressive upon each release, but standing as a member of the seamless team of other, impressive, heat-seeking singles from Chamber to Deadlock are a gang, a band, more matured. All demonstrating how playful things can get when worlds according to wielding 8-string guitars like they were axes or lightsabres, and other worlds according to performing open-heart surgery on a bank of brutal synths when the intersections of these diverse points have been excavated, can create something new. But under what circumstances exactly?

SCALPING take great pleasure in absorbing such a treasure chest of cacophony, a wonderland of experimental mess and cosmic clutter, solely theirs, from their armchairs, their bedrooms, their private studios, to staple and stick together. From the off, it’s a tireless, bottomless journey through various permutations and perceptions of sound and vision, personalities and textures entwined. A conjuring of atmospheres, rather than just an album. Void, either the void or this void, is so much greater than the sum of its important parts. The void could be Berlin. Or Brooklyn. Or some other uber-art city with something bubbling away below the pavements, running through its streets as all the great, distinct art-cities (Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester) often are.

But it’s most likely their hometown of Bristol where the band are currently based, and have been for the last ten years:

”When we moved to Bristol we were exposed to such a massive range of new music, it was fairly overwhelming. We spent a while absorbing it all before making any moves to try and be part of it and when we did it seemed obvious to combine this new world with what we’d always loved about rock and metal.”

From Blood Club’s anesthetised thump and numbness, Caller Unknown comes crashing into focus with slick, alien 808s and sprays of mechanical murder onto the walls of a deep underground cave. Drums hit hard. A firing squad forcing the back to budge up against the nearest wall. A heavy, hungry predatorial prowl moving at different speeds, moving in different directions, often at the same time as grotesque guitars chug and chop through the jungle vines with a machete to each pathetic leaf. Although the band worked under unavoidable conditions that constructed the chaos, there is a glimpse into what could have been had the pandemic not silenced the planet with disposable masks and doormat claps.

The album is a triumph in the sense it was created in the absence of each other: ”In a way, it’s nice to have been limited in this way for an entire project as it means whatever comes next will be different by its very nature”. It’s a strange, psychic way of composing a record with its own unique set of obstacles to overcome (I’m not coining the term, nor condoning – Spreadsheet Rock), but it survived the riven, ravenous times, one of the biggest of bad trips known to history, nonetheless: ”making the album remotely was obviously never part of the plan and so coming up with solutions (like spreadsheets, yes) just came entirely out of necessity; frustrating at times and it meant that everything took way longer than it should have, but fortunately, we had a lot of time”.

It’s a little hard to believe the band has never made an album before. But that irritated, compelling urge to work within their means, the end goal always on the mind in light of whatever might come your way, has done them good – and it shows.

It’s seized between love and hate, desire and disdain, challenge and response, for the strings and the keys, interestingly presenting a set of exciting, expressive forms conceived of on a dance floor during a rave, or rock gig, in the icebergs of spacetime, that are there to be wrestled with, in all the errors, the mysteries, the mistakes, the inexplicable magic and fortuitous imperfections that come along with what is essentially a plank of wood, ceremonially sacrificed and burned on bonfires time and time again but only scarcely dared to really feel rejuvenated, to have resurrected itself, a scant handful of times (including this one), down from one generation to the next, to hopefully transcend the scales, the chord progressions, that have been sold to the musician time and time again as the right way to play, the correct way to carry it coolly: ”with guitar music, you get the energy of a live performance filled with human error and ‘imperfections’, which can certainly be lacking in dance music. What’s really great with guitar music is the attentiveness and engagement of a crowd with the artist and the die-hard nature of the fans. Even just something like band merch for example illustrates the difference in mentality, being part of a group and experiencing this shorter form of live experience”.

Cloak & Dagger returns to rebellious, nuclear bunker grooves. A wrathful cataclysm of mathematical spells boom and echo into outer space, swing around a planet’s rings, hit it until a hole grows into its side, planet, and bounce back into Earth’s orbit. Everything growing in its own weird way. A way that makes sense. A way without question among the throws, the throngs, of everything else the record has to offer as a whole body. Progressing and proceeding in its own space, at its own pace, in its own way. Drums don’t ever do the same thing twice. Hot, distorted bass guitar does what machines can never which is wrapping its sweaty hand around the neck of the fucking thing. Inhabiting new lands once that baton has been passed from whoever to whoever else, playfully bludgeoning its beholder to step out of some kind of shadow as an homage to the true spirit, the genuine practitioners of DIY.

And again, ever the subversive types, on club music they make good use of remaining out of the spotlight, they meditate on always liking ”the anonymity of a DJ and their role as an ‘entertainer’, with dance music you can weave a much more sprawling and varied story. In clubs there’s usually a focus on sound systems and visual production, typically shows are later and the (good) dancefloors are geared towards escapism”.

It’s logical to view the album as a jigsaw puzzle. An expansive gestating, constellation of ideas contributing to the potent, the poignant unleashing of their gesamtkunstwerk pieced together from different areas of Bristol, the live room temporarily replaced by the lockdown. Without which, the album could have turned out very differently. As could all the other fucking albums released by artists tucked away in their respective caves and cupboards across the country as a way to stay sane…but this isn’t one of those:

”We almost had too much time to obsess over details on this record, we had too much time to spend on certain aspects of the record and no time just playing through the record with each other. We’re immensely proud of what we’ve created, especially considering the circumstances, but I know for sure the next one will be quite different, broader brush strokes for sure”.

The different members of the band (Isaac Jones on drums, James Rushforth on bass guitar, Nick Berthoud on guitar and Alex Hill on electronics) worked on the album separately, inspired by a dynamic array of data, a spectra of shapes to shift but fulfilling the vision about what SCALPING as a group-focused entity that refines those ideas can be, that shifts the shapes again until it all slots into place: ”Dance or electronic music is often instrumental but you’d never really see it described as such. Those were the worlds we were being influenced by and pulling ideas from, so we never really thought of ourselves as being an instrumental rock band. We’ve all been in them, but it’s never something we thought about”.

Desire for example is more soundscape to sci-fi films that don’t exist. Or the titles of chapters to post-apocalyptic novels that do. A buzzing backdrop of glitchy hisses, fizzling VHS tapes, and sleep-deprived, drug-induced IDM experiments provide a perfect surface for formidable footsteps belonging to bass and drums to roam across. Surfaces painted and wallpapered, torn and contorted by Pinch and Shackleton, by Fabio and Grooverider, by as much John Cage as John Peel. Pendulum-shaped guitar melodies liquified by extreme heat, hypnotically swinging from left to right and back again with touches of post-rock and post-hardcore (despite of course, labels doing a grave disservice here. Like something this vast, this intense, this immensely cinematic in scope and precision could possibly be pinned to a word with a prefix shoved before it) primed to peel back, peek into, and finally penetrate whatever stands before it.

Latest single Flashforward utilises spellbinding vocals of some dark, tribal choir of celestial bodies and bestial rhythm sections to create something wonderfully unnerving. In its marvelous wake comes a SCALPING mad techno-punk attack, a projection of phantasmagoria on the bedrooms of people interested in the expansive, attacks of abstraction from spooked Autechre as much as Fugazi (Over The Walls), as enthused by the unsettling, underground, electronic parasomnia of Aphex Twin and the demonic, industrial crush of White Zombie (Silhouettes), by the ominous assault of space of Oceansize.

And such rich, deeply-run ethical codes parallel to those pioneers, those artists, SCALPING possess unequivocally. It pumps throughout their blood. A ”collective interest in pushing musical equipment and technology” that laughs in the face of limitation with an infectious thirst for repurposing these damned objects (”guitar music always feels so slow on the uptake of new technologies ”), that 2022, the apex of postmodernism primed for technological ripeness, can keep on laughing at; torn, tortured, and teased, exposed and explored, by dragging them through new environments (”expansive exploration of the producer mindset always appealed to us”).

Perhaps it’s Bristol’s fault they think of being able to unfold music using such processes. What better place than to cross-pollinate these various noises than Bristol, but realising there is a potential to reach beyond its walls, if any existed at all: ”the soundsystem culture, labels like Livity Sound, Howling Owl, and Timedance, experimental events at The Arnolfini and The Island; it was just the huge mixing pot where it seemed like everyone just did whatever they wanted and everyone was on the same page”.

And in what better way to advance on that system of thinking, to act upon that creative school of thought with a sense of agency by melting a record from each member together. By dropping those instruments from great heights. By dusting them off and distorting them to reach temperatures below sub-zero but also flicking that slim dial well into the red. From resurrecting their digitalised spirit from their deformed, analogue core. About how to rip those riches to shred and represent them as something totally cool, rewritten, and rewired. The talent and technical ability to manipulate like alchemical visionaries. Fans of music with excellent taste. Knowledge about what works. Knowledge about how to subvert what instruments can do. A conceptual aberration of form.

A method inculcated in them, carefree but carefully-planned, by the liberated, artistic atmospheres replete in their hometown of Bristol and subsequently bled into their subconscious as young men absorbing what the city has to offer as a creative hub that ”specifically seems to inadvertently explore these worlds. Promoters and venues are creative with the way nights are billed and spaces are used, when having a mix of DJs, electronic acts & bands, the way a space is used and the timings of a night are really key to making everything make sense. Just from being out a lot in Bristol has entirely informed whatever agenda we have”.

Sometimes you get really hooked, even lost, when you first listen to a tune and then some piss-poor vocalist starts singing and shitting all over your experience of it. Collaborations paying specific attention to the melodic and lyrical abilities can behave like having a spare key cut for someone you’ve never met before and they interpret, internalise, intellectualise, whatever is on display differently from those that initially designed, that rearranged, the whole room.

Like an electronic artist, a DJ, or a soundsystem as a feature of their arsenal to supercharge the audience. Here, it’s to supercharge the tune with something unique, a new voice, some kind of forceful vocal thread or voice force. Voices that are sometimes so warped, we fail to register them as such, treated with extremes we recognise them as something else, or not at all: ”there are layers of warped voices across the record, voices of all kinds – whispers, friends, strangers, bots, even my cat, which are intended to illustrate memories of relationships and the function of memory; the flickering and blurred moments of your past that come back when you least expect it.”

Featuring the lyrical skills, and voice forces from Oaklands Daemon on Tether (someone they discovered through Soundcloud or Bandcamp and after hearing his DXE EP on Infinite Machines: ”we’d never met or spoken to him before so just reached out with this idea for a song and he was into it”) or Grove on Remain In Statis, (”we met in the studio at Mickey Zoggs because our Noods Radio shows are back to back.) the album utilises voices in ways that add new dimensions of muscle, of musicality, into the general mix of things. Others who perform akin to SCALPING to tarnish and permutate, who exists to exploit the intersections of electronica, and hip-hop, as a metalhead who loves a good club.

”We’re very lucky to have both of these artists on the record and definitely looking forward to working with more people in the future”. Me too.

Each vocalist a fictional apparition, the ghost to toast the imaginary stage, a quiet cinema in the hot, ultraviolet light of hypermodern times, this convergence of mobile soundsystem culture married with Marshall amp stacks, introducing something stimulated, something to keep the plates spinning: ”With this album we’ve got two tracks with full vocal features and it’s been really fun playing with how much of a story, mood, narrative or emotion you can work into a track both with and without vocals.”

Tether is a corner fought for by Daemon, protected like a panther protecting empty space in a cage filled with nothing but itself. A slow, stealthy, sludgy rotten-corpse hip-hop number with acid spit and sludgy, punk swagger. Remain In Stasis injects something adrenalised into the veins of the zombie walking toward the nearby town, EBM throb that reverberates throughout the network of nerves consumed by crowds and concealed in dense dope smoke, cut across by random rays of strobe lights. A tremendous, sun-swallowing, earth-eating, bone-bending barrage of gamma-ray guitar noise and ungodly drums. Smiling like a psychopath with schizophrenia. Catchy in a way that will kill you – ‘I know nothing, and yet everything‘.

If anyone has been able to witness what the four-piece are capable of live on tour dates taking them from the Brudenell and Belgrave in Leeds to the White Hotel in Salford, including a show at fabric (they are now a part of that dominating, dignified dance family) with Paranoid London, booked to play their own headline gig there on May 5th, will know they are onto something entirely their own, chasing a signal, digital or otherwise, directly shot from an extraordinary source, whilst walking on a path carved by, nobody entirely their own.

It’s a stunning, visible wish to subvert their own album, about wanting to reconfigure or recalibrate what traditional instruments can do when inserted into new atmospheres, when lowered into new realms of experimentation, reconfiguring the parts that divide one studio experience from another with ideas of liveness and spectacle on one side and the studio on the other: ”In terms of subverting our own music, we’re quite fortunate in that we’re not bound by traditional song structure etc, and when people come to see us they’re not expecting a conventional set, not expecting us to just perform the songs from the album note for note or whatever. This means we’ll rework old songs, remix new songs, add new parts, replace parts, etc all to service the live set as best as possible”.

Their psychedelic incantations blasted onto backdrops, with little, if any, audience interaction and identities well-concealed, augment this further in live environments. The observable result of the chromosomes of lymphocytes post-LCD doses has been drip-fed into your system. Visuals created by long-term collaborator Jason Baker, built up from the depths of the obscene, surreal surfacing of the imagination, able to transform the common punter into a fully-fledged, fuel-injected, pill-popped madman, establishing the differences between the rock gig and club, both as capable of being raw as each other when analysed in such a way as SCALPING do: ”We want to capture the scale, production and anonymity of a club but the focus and energy of a live show and using visuals helps us achieve this. It obviously also brings an extra angle to the show in terms of narrative and aesthetics”.

It’s a cryptic kind of language system that exclusively SCALPING is fluent in speaking, but everyone can access, that aesthetically communicates to all that this is SCALPING’s record, defiantly unlike anything else, their voice, their void. One that mutates with each movement, dancing on landscapes of neuroses and delirium, somewhere between science-fiction and evolutionary psychology, between Deftones and Dischord, between Akira and Warp, between Fad Gadget and Factory Floor, Tetsuo, Tron and Teksupport, rage and the grains of the man-machine it fiercely kicks against.

Energised, entertained, a slave engulfed by the relentless thud of a techno-heartbeat to soup and screw-up, each mechanical moment, each vital, visceral piece, the songs are tight, taught, they don’t take too long to say something complex, which could take fucking ages and compromise the impact of the work. Cutting its way through from tracks one to nine like knives into blocks of butter or oxyacetylene torches into limbs of steel. SCALPING as the candidates holding these weapons, words never spoken but sentiments always felt, mysterious travellers with radiation sickness on ambient highways but playing, but rockin’ out, to their heart’s content. The only possible way to keep going. And packaged in a way that instantly grabs your attention in the way that Emil Schult did through Kraftwerk or Brute!’s through KMFDM. But for Scalping, everything is assembled in-house. They are their own fifth member.

Anonymous. Limitless. Escapism through entertainment. Pulled and pushed to conclusions incomprehensible to those afraid to turn certain corners, to peek below certain lids once removed, partially emptied, and partially filled with wonderous new content. Content that keeps us coming back for more. SCALPING relish in the infectious encouragements to exist unshackled from one specific section of musical history when they know all too well how it can be snipped, clipped, edited, erased, reimagined, with new things, new chapters, new verses, new meanings bleeding into the ink on the page that so many of their contemporaries (from Black Roots straight through to Fuck Buttons, IDLES and LICE) sing from but assimilate in their own perceptible way.

Content of the Void. Their Void.

~

SCALPING | Bandcamp | Soundcloud | Youtube |Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

DAEMON Soundcloud 

Grove Soundcloud 

Jason Baker Web | Instagram | Youtube 

Ryan Walker is a writer from Bolton. He lives in Manchester and writes for a number of zines including Up Yours and Sweet Face. His online archive for Louder Than War can be found online here.

 

 

 

 

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