Monday, 29 March 2010


Ahead of Thursday's Revenant Forms event at London's Cafe Oto, I thought I'd post a couple of relevant pieces I've written on related artists. Inquisitive souls may also be interested to know that the transcript of my interview with Broadcast for The Wire last year is viewable here.


Britain still has its surprises, its secrets. On a recent visit to Broadstairs in Kent, this writer stumbled across a book entitled Ghost Stations in a dusty old second-hand booksellers. The book comprises barely-credible 'true' stories of haunted British airfields written in a stilted, untutored style. Yet it's still a compellingly eerie read, the fact that it was discovered in a town which seems decidedly more Pagan than Christian, its charity shops full to bursting with occult tomes, only reinforcing its weird energy.

It is precisely this energy that Jim Jupp and Julian House, founders of Ghost Box, have been tapping into for the last five years. The pair cite "library music, folklore, programmes for school and colleges, British horror movies, lost soundtracks, haunted landscapes, defunct educational establishments and weird supernatural stories" as key influences, while the label's design aesthetic (credited to House, an in-demand graphic designer) adds a further dimension of authenticity to the project, evoking Op Art, 60s-style abstraction and the celebrated house style of Penguin Books.

The music itself often relies on a similar collage-based aesthetic. By turns the work of Belbury Poly, The Focus Group, The Advisory Circle and Eric Zann recalls the library cues of the KPM company, the pioneering experimentation of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the electro-nostalgia of Boards Of Canada and the sinister, site-specific ambience of Brian Eno's On Land... although the label's latest release, From An Ancient Star by Belbury Poly, incorporates elements of disco and dub, illustrating that the Ghost Box aesthetic is malleable, adaptable.

"Through each release we like to expand on the Ghost Box world and rediscovered films, TV, records and books constantly feed into this process," enthuses Jupp. "A book that Julian and I have both recently read which seems almost to have come from the Ghost Box world is Kingsley Amis' The Green Man, and personally I've been enjoying the soundtrack music of Richard Denton and Martin Cook [composers of the theme tune to cancelled BBC pop-science show Tomorrow's World] which has influenced the latest Belbury Poly release."

Jupp and House aren't simply indulging in nostalgia, however; their fascination for the hidden, lost and forgotten sheds a mysterious glow on Britain's past, present and future.

"Part of what we try to do with every Ghost Box release," explains Jupp, "is to recreate the feeling of stumbling across an intriguing and mysterious old book or record in a junk shop, giving that sense that these mysterious artifacts could somehow be windows into a whole hidden world."

Given Ghost Box's fascination for the hidden, haunted Britain (metaphorically and otherwise) have Jim or Julian ever been haunted, spooked, bedeviled, bewitched or otherwise supernaturally affected?

"Unfortunately not that I can remember," replies Jupp, "although if you ask any of the other Ghost Box artists I think they'll all agree that by working on the label and each release we're often surprised by bizarre coincidences and connections. I think my own interest in the supernatural goes right back to experiences of sleep paralysis, out of body experiences and waking as a child. All that strange stuff that happens between sleeping and waking has always made me suspect there is more to reality than ordinarily appears to us."


Summer 2006. I stumble upon an intriguing, teardrop-shaped CD sleeve in one of London’s bespoke audio boutiques. On closer inspection, I note that the CD features the voice of Thames TV continuity announcer Philip Elsemore, whose rich, comforting tones and crumpled, friendly face I had forgotten until this very moment. Ghosted. I scan the sleevenotes, a mossy manifesto conjuring images of Britain succumbing to corvidae while ‘the amplified sound of dead air’ leaks from melted transistor radios. I purchase the CD, but I’m discombobulated by its hyper-sampleadelic plundering of Britains past and present, its salty evocation of early ‘90s UK techno (Stakker, FSOL, Bandulu, et al) and crafty nods toward dubstep. I return it to the shop, mildly aggrieved.

But something isn’t right. In spite of myself, I’m still breathing Dead Air. I buy it again, and spend the rest of the summer, autumn and winter travelling up and down the Silverlink, binding the sound in my headphones to the concrete and pebbledash and undead, dreamless sky.

Admiral Greyscale and Baron Mordant are the shadow-hosts to Mordant Music, a constantly sporing subcultural entity which, as well as releasing the insidiously essential Dead Air, has spat out collaborative emissions with dubstep artist Shackleton (notably 2004’s now-classic ‘Stalker’ 7”) and comedian Simon Munnery (the pornographic View Mastur toy). I contacted the pair for a furtive electronic interview...

Why 'Mordant'? Does the aesthetic dictate the music or vice versa?

Admiral Greyscale: “I think the deathly aesthetic unquestionably fuels the art... it’s a beast that feeds on itself in perpetuity.”

Why is now the right time for a soft explosion of British Weird?

Baron Mordant: “We're right down to the marrow now in terms of yield and an exciting final finality is being viscerally heralded from all quarters, whether it be doom, dubstep, noise, folk or our own brand of death-throw archiving. It is certainly an overall period of mourning and a vast shedding of sonic skin. The glee club has finally departed and a realistic social interaction, imbued with a stark musical framework, has begun to infiltrate everyday lives... '1984' with a better soundtrack. Pound for pound the overall salvation factor is actually in rude health.”

Is Philip Elsemore pleased with the results of his participation?

BM: “A wonderful combination of ecstacy and reticence...'ecstaticence'.”

Is MM part of a British musical lineage?

BM: “MMore an overall cultural lineage that music is the host to... Chris Morris and Leerdammer are as influential as Aphex Twin. The lineage is cosmic and not confined to Broadstairs.”

AG: “We’re pretty keen on Tulse Luper (a fictional British raconteur invented by filmmaker Peter Greenaway). Leonard Rossiter is also a talisman.”

So how would you describe your relationship with good old Blighty? Is there a kind of patriotic pride to MM?

BM: “Blighted by shortsightedness more like. As cultures clash and dovetail, with only a handful of mavericks to applaud, I'm firmly opposed to patriotism. It's the vast unknown that I pledge allegiance to... I'm fed up of the forecourts.”

What influenced your decision to make each MM release a covetable 'item'?

AG: “We fumble in the wake of Mo Wax, 4AD, Factory and all those labels/artists for whom a visual identity is as fundamental as the sonic output. We’re also both collectors by nature to differing degrees. We approach the making of everything with an eye on whether or not we’d treasure the item ourselves.”

Given the amount of samples used on Dead Air, how did you decide what went in and what stayed out? Was there a particular 'feel' you were looking/listening for?

BM: “It distilled itself from a lifetime of influences somehow... the BM/AG 'Grey Library'. There were several phases of aligned creativity and it was certainly not just tossed off, however despite the convoluted processes both creatively and socially Dead Air can be looked upon as a veritable 'chicken in a bastard'... only the listener can decide to delve deeper or treat it as scree.”

AG: “We generally aim for a nuance, a vague notion of something... anything overly familiar tends to get lobbed overboard.”

How did the relationship between MM and dubstep come about?

BM: “Dubstep is somewhere in the MM tea-leaves albeit a peripheral cuppa. Sam Shackleton is a friend who happened to be making music in that vein. MM released 'Stalker' which defies the dubstep tag in my book. It's more John Carpenter to my ears. The recent 'I Want To Eat You' (available on double a-sided 10” with MM’s ‘Hummdrumm’) is certainly in dubstep's six-yard box. Sam's totally 'Mordant' and will breach our defences at some point again in the future.”

What do you feel MM's music shares with dubstep?

BM: “The burden! Note for note, not much, although I am into the tempo and convex production. I think it's suffocating itself and maybe that's the point. We certainly inhabit the same bitumen lined vacuum.”

First published in Plan B Magazine, 2007