Norway - Full Moon 250 - 01/12/17
Sprø Musikk Guttenes Detektiv-Håndbok
The small town Arendal on the southern coast of Norway has hosted a small festival that has kept going almost every year since 1982 called Sprø Musikk Festival (meaning something like Insane Music Festival). The first few years it was an outlet for the underground artists of the cassette movement that reached an all-time high around 1983-85. By 1985 the festival had developed into a semi-big affair that included some up and coming national acts at the time in addition to members of the contemporary, at the time, cassette mafia. Since 1987 it has been a small one-afternoon-and-evening party with live music by and for the chosen few, around 50-150 people all together I'll guess, including the involved musicians. About ten years ago the festival moved indoors in the autumn or early winter instead of outdoors in the summer. For four years now the party has been celebrated with an accompanying CD compilation with offerings from artists playing at the festival that year augmented with recordings from the archives, mainly from or around Arendal, but some from other towns. The cover art has every year been taken from a cover of the Norwegian edition of books about the Hardy Boys (renowned American detectives in their teens that never grow substantially older and have entertained young people for several generations along with Nancy Drew). The 2016 festival took place on 10. December and the cover of the annual CD is this time taken from the Hardy Boys' Detective Hand Book (a do it yourself handbook for aspiring youths who want to learn the noble art of investigation). But the faces of Frank and Joe Hardy and the policeman have been replaced by some local Insane Music Boys.
The 2016 compilation is not as weird as the title suggests. Here are plenty of relatively straight, structured and melodic tracks, most of them conventionally structured songs, to supplement the more insane sound- and noisescapes. The common factor is the status of the performers. Most of them quite established in their own field, but overall far from any commercial hit list oriented strategies. Let's call it underground music.
Every year the compilation has started with the song "Sprø Musikk", a kind of festival anthem with proclamation about a life of Insane Music: 'People think I'm insane, because I play insane music, When they see my record collection, they almost catch colic'. By autumn 2016 the archives had been emptied for historical recordings of the song, so Cool Kat and Zetlitz took responsibility and recorded a new version under the moniker Headset # . They had a cassette band along with Thomas Robsahm (see below) called The Headset Junta that played at the festival way back, in 1983... The new version is appropriate with some insane laughter and growls among the piano, swirling synth and far from insane guitar licks. The vocals are mixed a bit low once in a while, but mostly it's possible to discern the message about the assets of Insane Music. The aforementioned Thomas is represented with a track from his 1985 solo cassette Alltid Barn (A Child Forever) as Tvileren Thomas (Doubting Thomas). This was an outlet for his more innocent songs back then, as opposed to the darker sides of his main band then White Lord Jesus. The piano based "Hodesalat" (Head Salad) sounds like a pretty and innocent ballad, but the lyrics deal with the torments of youth. He is helped out by Bård Torstensen (guitar and bass), later renowned guitarist in Clawfinger. 25 years on and they started to collaborate again in the excellent instrumental quartet Neonato.
Earlier Thomas was part in the aspiring post-punk band Brød & Sirkus (Bread & Circus), here with their contribution to Norway's first great cassette compilation Zink Zamler (1982) called "Dolce Vita", the very first song to be released by them, I think. I have a lot of fond memories about this band, that played on the first three festivals in the 1980s, resurrected for the festival two years ago and released a couple of great cassette albums in 1982 and 1984. This is not their finest offering, it stomps too much up and down instead of moving forwards, methinks. The bassist of Brød & Sirkus later formed the ska and rock oriented band Gul Tyv (Yellow Thief) along with Zetlitz from Headset # and a few others. "Matador" catches them live in 1991, a solid rock number with extra percussives and two guitars.
Here's also an 11 minutes live recording from 1994 by The Smell Of Incense (TSOI), a medley that couples two early Gong numbers, "What Do You Want?" and "Magick Brother". Like the aforementioned, this track belongs among the melodic sane ones of the compilation although it's a psychedelic excursion that initially builds and builds before it evolves into more conventional song structure. Though not particularly conventional all the way, coming to think of it. It used to be one of my live favourites by the band back in the 1990s, but unfortunately the vocals are harmed by mediocre sound quality here. Check out the split 10 inch EP by TSOI and Etheral Counterbalance on September Gurls Records for a better and cleaner version of this gem. Guitarist and vocalist Lumpy Davy and guest synth bleeper Brt of TSOI are also members of Famlende Forsøk (Staggering Attempts) along with Chrisph and K2. They finishes off the compilation with "God What a Mess, America". It includes guest vocals by none other than TSOI vocalist and electric fiddler Bumble B. Someone who mentioned something about inbreeding here? Wait for it, we're not finished yet! Anyways, now we're moving into insaner landscapes, at least half the track. It starts with the "Star Spangled Banner" played on electric guitar in about the same way as Jimi Hendrix did during the last day of the Woodstock Festival in 1969 (I think). Towards the end of the track they squeeze in "Amazing Grace" sung in a more respectful way (than the guitar playing) by Bumble B. In between it's kinda messy with Brt's spoken words in Norwegian and English over surprisingly nifty synths and distorted guitar. The track was recorded at Famlende Forsøk's release party for The Tao Tapes on 1. October 2016. No Americans were hurt during the performance, Brt informs us. The track will probably prove even more valid in the four years lying ahead of us right now...
To finish off the inbreeding, The Headcleaners' instrumental "De 29 Trinn" (The 29 Steps) is an unreleased gem from the archives recorded by the aforementioned Lumpy Davy and Cool Kat in 1983 for a cassette album that never was finished. It's quirky and melodic, with harmonium, cornet and synth, sometimes almost sacral. It might have worked as the soundtrack to a film, even an Alfred Hitchcock film, only it's ten steps too short. Anyhow, a highlight. Revosolution is an Oslo-based quartet including Famlende Forsøk's K2. Their "Shahida Filistine" is a fascinating mixture of western rock'n'roll and Turkish delight, not least due to a persistent Greek bouzoki. To me it sounds as if the late Lou Reed - with his vocal mixture somewhere in between spoken words and singing - and parts of his band had gone to the Middle East and recorded with some local folk musician. Before Lou's death, that is. The sound quality is exemplary, the best of the entire disc. A great offering!
Finally, time for the hard-core insane music ... Magnus Bugge is a relatively young electronic musician and his "Tobin Moonstruck" starts with electronic birds and bees that slowly grows in intensity before they partly evolve into something different. Not bad at all! Sindre Bjerga has visited the festival for the last four years or thereabouts. He is an internationally renowned noise and sound creator, mainly with several thinkable and quite a few unthinkable mainly analogue sources, and often with a twinkle in his eye. His offering, "Short Track Attenuation", starts as if someone is on the look for something down in a damp cellar, or maybe it's an animal going on down there? Eventually we're served some squeaking and creaking as if a violin bow is being stroked on a relatively loose string or a metal object. Not Sindre's brightest moment, but fair enough. We've teamed up with Bodycoctail aka. Zan Hoffman earlier, his album Aeromatic Insinuendo released by SHiT Tapes way back in 2002. "This Is Not A Love Poem" is taken from that album. Fascinating distorted American vocals, staccato synth, stomping drum machine, more or less intuitive stops and starts and semi-insane whistling in between gives the song an original flavour to say the least. Farlie (spelled almost like Dangerous in Norwegian) is the duo Håkon Lie (an established noise musician, assorted sounds and noises, both electronic and analogue, it seems) and Dario Fariello (noisy sax). The occasional sax sounds a bit free and jazzy. Otherwise this is a noisy combination as I've never quite heard it before. The intensity diminishes and the sounds become more structured in the second half. Anyways, insane music, indeed!
This is an underground compilation as it ought to be, for better or for worse, with warts and all. More than half of the 12 tracks don't deserve the sprø/insane label. But I guess it's insane to deal with these kind of musical excesses anyhow, in a small town with hardly any prospects of attention outside a small community and hardly any fortune. This is music entirely driven by enthusiasm and idealism. It points in many different directions, the sound quality varies and it's hard to guess what to expect next first time you listen. Only three of the tracks has been available earlier, as far as I reckon. The remaining nine are either completely new or differs from previously released versions. The price of commission is low, 100 Norwegian kroner, but so is the edition, only 50 hand numbered copies. I suppose you really ought to be quick if you want to pick up a copy. Maybe it's too late. If so you need to be patient and wait for the 2017 edition of the festival and a new festival compilation due towards the end of the year. I can hardly wait.
Copyright © 2017 JP