When lockdown was announced, income dropped to zero not just for venues but for artists and others in the surrounding infrastructure of live music. Takuroku sprung up in response to provide some mutual support for those with shows that were cancelled, and people from their network. The direction was to try something new, with a minimum total running time of 20 minutes. The proceeds were split 50/50 with the artists and each release was priced at £6. The experiment was a success: there has been a batch of two or more releases almost every week since 13th May 2020, meaning that when the label is mothballed at the end of the month, it will have clocked up an impressive 196 releases. In this is both hope and horror – the passion and ability to act fast and well to keep the ship afloat, and sadness at what was lost and how long it has been since this tragedy began.
I'd love to say I'd listened to all the Takuroku releases, but 195 makes that impossible. However, looking back over what cut through the noise internal and external gave me pause to reflect on 18 months of the pandemic. I find I remember the state of things through what I listened to. I was at home doing jigsaws and drinking cocktails to @xcrswx; booking last minute pub tables to catch the football to Xenia Pestova; reacquainting myself with the bustle of public transport to Triple Negative. However, now Oto is open again, with soundwaves reverberating off its whitewashed walls, percolating in the wicker lamp and overwhelming the doof-doof from the rooftop bar above, it is time for TakuRoku to be put to bed. It is now somewhat obsolete, and those running it are needed elsewhere. Farewell, and thanks!
Harrga means "A Burn" in the Moroccan Darija dialect, and points to harragas –migrants who burn their ID papers and seek asylum in Europe. A duo of vocalist Dali De Saint Paul with Miguel Prado on electronics, Femmes D'Interieur was a cathartic beginning to the label, a scream for those for whom lockdown was not a relief nor a chance to rest. The noise of it is all-consuming – a looming cloud of full-frequency sonics that blocks out light and fizzes with unleashed fury, as De Saint Paul's voice cuts through in bleeding lament and a gnashing of teeth.
Crystabel Riley and Seymour Wright's duo @XCRSWX was one of my favourite shows of 2019, and in lockdown #1 a new release from them renewed my sense of connection to music that was made in the moment; in a time and space that was social, tactile, immediate and urgent. Lookbook's reedy whistling and lightly troubled toms captured not the ferocity of the show I had seen the year before, but the anxiety, incoherence and dislocation of the pandemic's early months. It is a weathered sound and a quiet one, sunk in a confused grief and acute sense of being lost.
Xenia Pestova Bennett ran with the invitation to try something new. Her playful pieces on Yamaha CS1X, Korg MonoSynth 2000, MicroKorg Synth Vocoder are intentionally nostalgic. She reaches for the escapism of vintage synth albums: a pinch of Edgar Froese, a splash of David Borden. Many of us sank back into past listening patterns during the pandemic, returning to albums from our teens and 20s in attempts to find a sense of safety, security and familiarity in sound. As such, I found this album a particularly thoughtful response to the situation: a way of finding pleasure in music while still acknowledging the present.
Secluded Bronte are the pop group I never asked for but always wanted, sonically somewhere in the lineage of the broad morass of the UK DIY underground, but also stand up comedy (cf: "His hobbies are jazz antiques and poetry"). In this trio of both Bohmans and Richard Thomas, Adam Bohman does his signature lo-fi spoken word salad, to minimal instrumental accompaniment – a strummed string here, a knotty snare there, or some bar room piano, thuds, smashes and watery stuff. Opener 'The Burst' is a stone-cold banger, its torque, pulse, and fried texts coming off like it's been spliced straight from a cassette from the 1980s industrial music edgelands. It's usually a good sign when music downloads come with a health warning, isn't it? (The download contains a rapidly strobing gif).
These folk songs by the folk duo Cath and Phil Tyler are mussed with a gentle melancholy, and often felt charged with a sense of grief for what we had lost. 'The Old Churchyard' has a lonesome feel that stripped me of my socks-pulled-up brave face, and sunk me in thoughts of empty social spaces and people I hadn't seen. It became a tribute to the distance not travelled, and an end that was not yet in sight. It became absorbed into my repertoire for a while and was sung around the house while washing up and brewing tea; while pondering new ways to create a detectable shift between daytime work and leisurely evenings, when everything is happening in the same few rooms.
Antonina Nowacka is one half of Polish duo WIDT with her sister Bogumila Piotrowska and a member of the trio Szpety. These intimate sketches were made in churches in Oaxaca, when she was on the hunt for organs. I for one am glad that she didn't find them, because these pieces far outstrip yet another church organ record (I hereby beg for an amnesty on these) and feel as if one is eavesdropping on someone singing alone. The hiss of the outdoors grounds some tracks in cool interiors, and there are the sounds of a city or town bustling just at the edge of others where a cock crows or scooters rev. At times it seems to hang between worlds, coming from a similar gauzy threshold as Akira Rabelais' Spellewauerynsherde.
There isn't anything more up my street than Keiji Haino doing covers with his band the Hardy Rocks (Masami Kawaguchi on guitar; Shingo Naruke on bass; Toshihiko Katano on drums). Who doesn't like a squalling 11-minute long cover of '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'? More seriously, Haino and his well-seasoned band here are excavating rock 'n' roll, digging into the messy dirty roots of it; of what is found at its hard bedrock when it is shorn of hair and flares, and flayed of its skin.
In more recent months I've been plucking things from the catalogue that I missed. This album of mostly solo saxophone by Old Heaven affiliate Lao Dan is one that passed me by in these disappearing times but which I have enjoyed more recently. 'Don't Be Angry' contains cross mutterings quieted by a saxophone offering solace; 'Solo 1' moves like a dog tied to a pole: it runs in tight circles; paws at the ground; growls and snarls; whips itself up into a barking frenzy. 'Solo 2' is more lyrical and 'Song Of Longevity' is something else entirely: a doomy vesper for electronics and reeds.
These murky, smeared sonics remind me now of the period when things were opening up in the UK, not the joy of it but the unease. It reminds me of moments in busy lifts; the shock and worry when stepping into a tube carriage where half the passengers are not wearing a mask; the sonic confusion when I returned to a busy pub and realised I'd forgotten how to tune out other people's conversations. It is anxious music, chaotic in its deviations from form and structure; it captures perfectly the low-level hum of disquiet at knowing it is not over yet.