There’s a strong vein of experimentalism in Leeds; that subterranean buzz and rumble that keeps the whole city ticking over. An ever present atomic clock counting down the days until jazz, electronica and all its cohorts break through the pavement and overwhelm the continually unsuspecting public. I can imagine their agonised faces now.
We find such potential force in Craig Scott. A ball of yarn would indeed be handy as I step into the maze that is his newest album ‘War Is A Racket’ . The comfort of my own home is not sufficient for the onslaught of this record, and I half expect to be transported to some form of tea party or to a Las Vegas hotel bar amongst a choir of reptiles. The best expression I can muster is a frown: “What the hell is going on?” It’s a beautifully constructed world of surrealism, fraught with twists and turns, and while the Indiegogo biopic video does nothing to calm my nerves, it does further focus the listener on the goals of the composer. To delve a bit deeper, I asked Craig a few questions about his quest so far.
Champion Up North: I’ve seen Shatner’s Bassoon at least twice in my time. I found the experience mind bending. To the uninitiated, how would your album fare in comparison, both compositionally and in terms of orchestration? What should we expect?
Craig: The album features quite a lot of Ollie Dover (saxophones/bass clarinet), Johnny Richards (piano/synth) & Mick Bardon (double bass) from Shatner's Bassoon. As the album is a studio album and everything is composed after recording, the process is very different - the range of instruments is wider and there's much more focus on post-recording manipulations/processing. Hopefully the experience is equally as mind bending, but possibly easier to have sex to.
CUN: Many don’t accept experimental music into their taste. Would you agree that it takes some degree of effort to enjoy, and to that end, a greater knowledge of music? Or would you say it’s something that just clicks for people? How did you find your way into it?
Craig: I'm not sure about it taking effort to appreciate - it all just depends on your previous experience with music, and the way it molds your perception of new music. I grew up on a lot of Zappa and Henry Cow, and I’ve never owned a Beatles record, so I suppose I might have a slightly skewed perception on what is considered 'the norm'. There should be something there for most people to hang onto.
CUN: The whole marketing campaign has a bizarre bent to it, especially the physical brains. Do you intend on doing something similar with future releases?
Craig: I haven't really thought that far ahead yet (although it did cross my mind to release every album as a different coloured brain - as a sort of strange homage to all the Henry Cow records being pictures of different coloured socks). I needed a way to promote the album, seeing as for now it is just a recorded project, but there is no live band to promote it. I thought some sort of physical release was necessary, as I’ve self released things as digital downloads many times before, and it’s hard for it not just to blend into the sea of other mp3s on the Internet.
It seems even the major labels can only sell music as a by-product of the creation idols and cults, so I decided to cut to the chase and create my own church. It seems to function in more or less the same fashion. And like any good cult, as part of the crowd funding for the record you can buy your way up to the top.
There is also an option (Pledge Level) entitled 'The Philanthropist Guilt Relief Aid Bundle' designed to give a sound night’s sleep to people who carry the burden of having been born into money, or act as a public diversion from other risqué activities they may be involved in. And of course there is the obligatory music crowd funding ‘come round to my house and eat dinner with me’ incentive entitled 'The Perverse Stalker Bundle'. At the end of the day the music is what matters and the rest is all propaganda (bullshit), and only serves to lead people to the record.
CUN: So far, everything has an air of Trout Mask Replica to it; sounding like you’ve locked away and starved a whole bunch of people (no sadism implied). Did the album fall out of your head or was it a more difficult process to get everything as you wanted it?
Craig: I’ve only starved myself. The ideas fell out of the head but realising them effectively was not so much difficult, but time very consuming.
CUN: From what I’ve heard so far, I think of Autechre and Beefheart being in the same room swapping notes. How much has older experimentalism influenced the album versus the ‘new wave’ of contemporary artists?
Craig: I'm a massive Beefheart fan but I’ve never got into Autechre - I always found it too clean and square. Because all the audio is taken from live recordings of acoustic and electronic instruments, manipulated with various crudely home-made sound altering paraphernalia, and reconstructed and treated/processed in a similar fashion to the material on a Aphex Twin or Autechre record, but without sequencers (all of the audio files are placed by hand/mouse in the grid), the result is something that resembles something both human (natural) and mechanical (unnatural). It’s the blurred line between the two that interests me - similar to the 'uncanny valley' concept - the reason why the latest Japanese sex robots are so terrifying.
CUN: Three years is a long time. Have you found, looking back, that your earlier recordings and sessions for the album are much different to the more recent? Can you look at this work as a retrospective and chart your growth and diversification?
Craig: Yes, it is a long time...
Open ended then...
There’s a full on commitment to his craft evident in what Craig tells me. Part of me wonders if a casting off of a Ziggy Stardust character would be the next move, while another part wonders if he intends to explore similar things even further. Either way, ‘War Is A Racket’ will stand as a pillar of integrity against an endless tide of self-regurgitating culture machines. I recall reading Matt Groening saying he hated Trout Mask Replica the first time he heard it but then, three or four listens later, he got it. Perhaps that is what it will take for some people with this record. I don’t think it’s meant to be comfortable. I don’t think it’ll be an easy ride, but whatever sense you get at the end of listening will certainly include a sense of achievement. This record will be a benchmark for 2014’s experimental releases, and offers great hope to those wishing to embark on a similar journey. It can be done as long as you start doing it. So go home, crack out Beefheart, recover, buy this album, take the week off, and start viewing the world through some pretty weird lenses.
If you are so inclined, and you should be, please donate to Craig’s efforts here: http://igg.me/p/652304
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