We have no idea what we're doing. But we need only think back to our earliest days, in the latter half of 2017, to see how much our first full year in business has taught us.
We consistently get asked by newcomers in the shop, “How long have you been open for?” - every time replying with "er...about a year and a half" and having to check ourselves - it feels like a decade ago that we first loaded into this rickety former hair salon (!), all hands on deck, pasting together the skeleton of a record shop till the wee hours of the morning, mouths full of warm lager and cold kebab, heads full of VERY rational anxieties that we didn't dare articulate for fear of jinxing the whole frigging enterprise, waiting for our fittings and furniture (any furniture!) to arrive, making pitiful meaningless piles - PUDDLES - of records to go in racks that may or may not turn up, knocking over half drank cans of San Miguel (not sure why San Miguel) with every other movement, and wondering where the overpowering smell of DEAD BODY was coming from (turned out to be a box of records from Penultimate Press). It felt ridiculous to open when we did, with no counter and no clue, but the “plan” was always to just get on with it, build as we go. FALLING FORWARD...
Yes, more than a year has passed and we still haven't mastered the basics of shopkeeping but we've put on shows, thrown parties, got a label going and found ourselves distributing many others. There have been weddings and births and badly timed trips to America. We haven't known whether we're coming or going, to be completely honest with you. We've just kept buggering on.
As anyone who has regularly set foot through our door in 2018 will have observed, our humble abode is in a constant state of evolution. Tiny increments of progress - so tiny. We learn by our mistakes - and what mistakes. We continue to make it up as we go along, the world within our four not-entirely-firesafe walls playing host to our experiments in carpentry, our shortcomings in botany, digressive staff meetings that achieve staggeringly little and, most importantly, a steady flow of good folk - that is to say, YOU. It goes without saying that a shop is nothing without its customers (oops, said it), but really - the fact that this operation is still afloat, albeit possibly sailing full-steam towards a giant fucking iceberg on the horizon, is down to YOU, our friends and patrons, you and your dogged determination to come and buy records from us despite there being no obvious practical reason that we're aware of for you to do so. So THANK YOU.
To those of you who have yet to visit our premises, or didn't know we existed before reading this, come and see us IRL if/when you can. We are a record shop. We sell records. You can listen to them all. We're located in Hackney Downs, London, about ten minutes' walk from Dalston Kingsland station, about fifteen from Hackney Central. For more information, including our reduced Christmas/NY hours, go here.
Anyway, despite all our apologist, pseudo-moaning, self-dep updates throughout the last 12 months, it has been an incredible year over this way, and whilst trying to condense it all into some kind of navigable ramble is impossible, below is a vein attempt - think of it as one of those awful round-robin letters that awful families send (thanks sis!) in lieu of christmas cards, boasting of fancy foreign holidays, favourable exam results, successful prostatectomies and other "achievements" that mean precious fuck-all to anyone else. In other words... indulge us.
To take the edge off our monstrous self-regard, we've included some 2018 notes/lists/observations from a few friends and allies in close orbit. The resulting chorus of baws will hopefully give you something summat to sink your teeth over the festive period beyond roasted foodstuffs and intra-family psychological warfare.
Let's get on with it. Can’t remember how we came across Jolly Discs, they never forced anything on us (hint!). Pleasant surprise to find that most of their output is recorded at producer/co-founder Guy Gormley’s flat round the corner from the shop. Playful, eccentric, utterly uncontrived sounding (and yet made with obvious care), it’s a label with its own sound - how often can you say that??? - and were happy as Lårry to give a vinyl release on our shop label to Special Occasion’s (Gormley and David Gray’s) The Word (originally a Jolly Discs CS). See also Enchante’s Mind In Camden, particularly for the slouchy, sleepy-eyed Dancer remix of ‘Dream Frequency', Never’s self-titled tape - really GOOD SONGS which, like Special Occasion’s, will outlive us (not hard!) and them.
Enter Thomas Bush. His drunken keyboard, West Midlands meta-karaoke/free-folk epic Old & Red, originally self-released on CD, was an unassuming, deeply eccentric TRIUMPH, seeming to see England for exactly what it is: an inexhaustible site of hauntings and myth and metaphysical potential, yes, but also one of endless boredom/bathos/banality, endless ENDLESSNESS, where the closest thing we have to ecstatic pagan ritual is queuing up for a cheese & onion bake from Greggs. We're not doing ALBUMS OF THE YEAR, but come on, this was definitely ALBUM OF THE YEAR. [As a sidenote, in a(nother) year where the amount of VINYL being manufactured and peddled amounted to ecological atrocity – it's estimated that around 10,000 baby dolphins died cos their airholes got blocked with surplus Coil reissues - those artists modestly releasing their work on CDR, tape, even the once-abhorred USB stick, were to be applauded. Even if the words “This is the first release on my tape label, can I leave some copies with you?” still fill us with dread.)]
Now that Diät's guitarist Josh has moved back home (WHAT MAKES HOME HOME?) to Sydney, the former best-band-in-Berlin appear to be no more, although (for us at least) some good came of this: with help from peripatetic painter-punk (ALLITERATION BABY) Robert P., Josh made a tape of songs as a leaving present for EU-marooned mates, Done One, attributed to Itchy Bugger. We wasted no time in emotionally blackmailing him into letting us do a vinyl version of it as the first release on Low Company’s in-house label. More accurately, we decided to start the label just so we could put out this album. We shouldn't big up our own stuff but sorry, Done One is special. Since then we gather Josh has recorded a follow-up (if he doesn't call it Done Two we'll kick off), and Robert has cut an album of 39 Clocks-ish thwock’n’roll as Bobby Would that we’ll be putting out in the new year.
Robert and Josh also resurfaced with fellow Nitzschean Superman of Dustbin Rock, Jasper, for Heavy Metal's third LP, this time on Harbinger Sound and breaking "new" ground by channelling grooving, groin-led early '70s rock’n’roll (think Sticky Fingers meets The Door & The Window), with room for a droogish cover of Cameo’s 'Word Up’ - placing them in the esteemed company of Korn, Gun and Little Mix (i.e. exactly where they belong). R. also found time to turn out an album of high-velocity, brutally economical one-two stomp with Muscle Barbie, it too released by Harbinger (which, between this stuff and the Ceramic Hobs and Kanker Kommando retrospectives, would have a fair claim to being called our label of 2018...IF WE WENT IN FOR THAT KIND OF THING). The arrival of Ver Hobs' Black Pool Legacy - an acrid, profane, invidiously psychedelic tour of the (you may've heard) DEEPLY TROUBLED British psyche, Monty Python meets the Brainbombs - coincided with the LDN heatwave and brought with it a comparable payload of delirium and discomfort and DELIGHT. Can’t count the times someone in the shoppe stopped to ask in disbelief, "Is this still the same record?". The only thing that came close, in terms of seditionary DIY mind-scramble, was On Guard, Horn O'Plenty's collection of rare and unreleased "music" by (The) Mudguards: a properly f****d and irreducible bricolage of end-of-the-pier agit-pop, industrial cut-ups and demolished-man techno-raga. (Visits from Nick'O'Horn'O'Plenty, and the life-lessons drolly imparted, were among this year's CUSTOMER-FACING highlights. Welcome any time.)
Some of you will know we made some Trotterish inroads into the distribution business this year. Peddles included John T. Gast's two BTEC Version 12"s: STRONG white label hit-and-runs that spanned UK steppers-cum-lo-NRG/new beat ('Angela'), widow-maker grime ('Drith') and blissy, bleary Detroit-hued techno (‘Club Version’). Good story about the hand-scribing of these platters too but sworn to secrecy sadly.
Nowt to do with us or are haphazard wholesale operation, but two releases Gast's on own 5 Gate Temple label also of note: the 7" from TNT Roots and that flash drive (jah baby) of sublime heathen chamber music from Gossiwor (a collaboration with Danish princeling MC Boli, whose stiff and stately string/woodwind confections as Boli Group made even the dreariest autumn afternoon pon the shop floor feel like a Michael Nyman movie viewed at half-speed (IN A GOOD WAY)). In broadly the same cosmos (I suppose cosmoses are broad), Lolina’s previously digital-only The Smoke made it onto vinyl, a sly po-mo pop dérive concerning “a private detective disguised as an art and design student from Central Saint Martins”, with staggeringly on-point production - hands down the best thing she's ever done, solo or otherwise (apart from maybe 'Smitten'), and effortlessly joining the ranks of the all-time great albums-about-London (Lolina is our Madness lol). Tribe of Colin’s ultra-mucky, paranoid, decelerated gear continued to divide our staff - although all would agree that, heard in the context of this Radar Radio set, it CLICKS - while Colin and Gast also collaborated as Docile on The Trilogy Tapes, bridging the bashment phuturistix of JTG's Carla dal Forno versions and the paranoid pagan jeep beats of his Young Druid CD…all shimmying pied-piper tension and (obviously) NO RELEASE. The new school of broken-dreams London tekno in full and foul-tempered effect +++
Gast gone brung the Disciples-In-Space vybz to our First Birthday Party too, on a bill that also included FWENDS old (out to Mummy Mark) and new: the Wah Wah Wino crew, who rocked up in the Wino Wagon with sizeable entourage, FisherPrice dub siren and a few carriers of £5 prosecco - and proceeded to collide 60s psych singles into Pinch records into innumerable low-bitrate 90s UFOs. Those boys themselves were a def highlight of the year, pretty much the living embodiment of all that we hold dear [keep it in your pants!] and consistently using the shop as beermat/doormat on their visits to London...Coincidentally, this was also the year that the wider world lost their shit over their label, the Wino-D 12" becoming Britain's second biggest-selling title behind The Greatest Showman OST.
Our chart above (IT’S NOT A CHART) scrupulously avoids archival releases that aren’t especially revelatory, by which we mean, reissues of established classics or comps that mainly tell you things you already know. For instance the entire Felt reissue campaign, which saw Lawrence and crew’s 10-LP corpus – including the all-instrumental makeweights – remastered, re-pressed, and in a couple of instances re-edited/re-packaged. We didn't learn anything new from this, to tell you the truth, but hearing all the albums together, in sequence, did confirm that Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty is their untouchable masterpiece, with a sound and mood every bit as distinctive and sustained as that of, say, Unknown Pleasures. Subdued teenage psychedelia – no snares! - that returned us afresh to our very own LOST DOMAIN. Also essential for any UK indie groper were Fire’s reissue of Television Personalities’ late-period misery-mod epic Privilege, and Felt/TVP progeny Apple Boutique's outrageously foppish (that hair!) Love Resistance 7", originally a 12" on Creation. With strong showings too from Vital Idles and (archival again) Skygreen Leopards, it’s perhaps no coincidence that this year we instituted an “INDIE” section in the shop rather than trying to get away with filing everything under “POST-PUNK/DIY”. Say it loud: bed-wetters and PROUD.
Almost forgot: Creation was at the centre of a POLITICAL FIRESTORM in Low Company this Autumn, when a female customer asked Kenny what the Pensioners On Ecstasy record on our wall was. "It's a compilation on Creation," said Kenny. "It was the label Oasis were on," he added, innocently enough (you might think). The customer's partner, however, outraged at the NERVE of this out-of-control MISOGYNIST PIG behind the counter, took to social media later that day to call him out for "mansplaining". Kenny, you'll be pleased to know, was docked a day's pay and banned from any kind of customer interaction for the rest of the month. He knows he must do better. Actually the worst sleeper-knob of a punter this year was the South African bloke who droned on at us for ninety minutes about the size of his record collection and then gave us a four-star Google Review, presumably docking us one star for not being on board with his racist jokes.
As far as racks go (wait, come back!), the one we probably tended to least this year was DREAM / POP / AMBIENT, 2017 having been one long semi-passive orgy/overdose of PYJAMA MUSIC. As such, anything emanating the HEALING POWER OF RELAX tended to get short shrift in no-nonsense cut and thrust of 2017. LOL. But there were some goodies skulking round the edge of the pool: Suba’s Wayang, a dub-me-crazy collision of fourth world ambience, polyrhythmic techno and bombed-out breakbeats from 1995, was a knockout, sounding like some unholy meshing of Jah Wobble’s Lago Years, Smith & Mighty, Liquid Liquid and emybronic Goa trance, and 12th Isle made us come over all Kinski with the superior mountain synth drift of XYR (and then knocked us sideways with a salvo of rusted dub-techno/depressive B-boy gristle from Best Available Technology - which couldn't be mistaken for Balearic if you fed it five eccies and forced it into white trousers and flip-flops).
We had a lot of fun in the shop with the Civilistjavel! LP - particularly whenever someone had a stab at pronouncing it. This enigmatic solo project (si-vi-list-yay-vil people!) might've died alone and unknown in a private DAT archive, had the elusive Swedish gent responsible not sent us some rips out of the blue and asked if we wanted to do anything with them. Woss Svensk for KISMET? It was an honour to have a hand in the release of this extraordinary material - existential electronics of the highest order. The first edition with hand-made sleeves is long gone, but the re-press is still available, and second volume of material from the same cache of recordings will materialise some time in 2019 - hold tight high-lonesome arctic tekno cru!
At this juncture we would like to pay tribute (poor choice of words, she's not dead) to Estelle, OUR STELLA, who throughout 2017 gamely took on job after job that the rest of us were too scared, or lazy, to even contemplate: be it attempting to impose order on our chaotic tape inventory, hand-stamping Itchy Bugger and Pessimist and Special Occasion records, gluing Civilistjavel! sleeves into shape, or photographing vegetable samosas. Any hand-made aspect to the records we released or distributed, chances are it was Estelle's hand what did the making. Her reliable and absolute contempt for 90% of the people who come through the door of a Friday afternoon also continues to provide us with much AMUSEMENT and spiritual BALLAST. Employee of the year. Thank you.
Speaking of the workforce/chain-gang, this was the year than KENNY finally tied himself to the mast of the leaky ship Low Company FULL-TIME, instead of just fitting us around his hectic schedule elsewhere (thank you Reckless for letting us have him, and for all the GOOD HABITS you instilled). This exciting new chapter in the LC chronicles very nearly came to an abrupt and tragic end. At the height of summer, an al fresco staff meeting (I know what is this fucking Marie Claire) descended into a monumental piss-up that ALMOST COST KENNY HIS LIFE when, business taken care of, the feckless wee man attempted an early-hours cycle ride home to Catford (we did protest although in retrospect we should really have INSISTED). He made it about 50 metres up the Kingsland Road before he came off his bike and was rushed - in pain and insensible but still in one piece - to hospital. He broke his arm and his wrist, but luckily he escaped with his life. Lesson learned - don't live in Catford.
"If you’re gonna go out… go out like a motherfucker." This year Christoph de Babalon went from being something of a lost artist (kind of) to being very much AVAILABLE. Guess the most significant Baba output this year was the reissue of his 1997 Digital Hardcore blast-off If You’re Into It I’m Out Of It, but the most pleasurable, and illuminating, was A Colourful Storm’s comp of previously unreleased gear, Exquisite Angst - a late contender for best album, and worst title, of 2018. Needless to say, CDB’s paranoid, bombed-out disasterpieces laid the groundwork for a huge swathe of contemporary fare from Demdike Stare, Pessimist, Raime, Mark - all of who ran successful cold missions this year.
That same party was headlined by Nkisi, total murderation her set, one of the year's highlights bar none, perma-peaking, darked-out but somehow also blissy and lithe gabba-techno with some crucial London pirate DNA anchoring it to the floor. As Flora P. memorably put it on a recent visit, you need some sense of ALARM in the dance - and Nkisi (b)rings it. Her ‘The Dark Orchestra’ 12”, together with Rian Treanor’s Contraposition, re-activated Warp’s Arcola sub-label in style. Also of note, in a similar-ish zone to the Treanor, was Gabor Lazar's Unfold, 2LP: easily one of the most exhilarating and legitimately futuristic dancefloor shock-outs of 2018, mashing up the dance with biiiiig, sticky hooks and space-time-disembowelling, liquid-sword production, while also sometimes sounding a LOT like Radioactive Man (!). Couldn't get on board with ZULI's album despite our best efforts but his Trigger Finger 12" for Haunter was an absolute mug-melter. Also pretty great on Haunter was the 10" from label boss Heith (hold tight for his new material coming in 2019 - it's well good) and the mini-album of barn-burning amen fire / designer tekno from Milan’s AAR... Not entirely unrelated, we really enjoyed the return of The Mover on Undetected Act From The Gloom Chamber (“I’m just glad there’s someone who still makes techno that sounds like a UFO taking off.” - Richard Rubadub). And whether or not you buy into the CULT of Colundi, there’s no denying that its figurehead / pied piper Aleksi Perala has used it to produce some boss braindance over the past few years. 2018 was another vintage one for him, with the Sunshine EP and the excellent various-artists Colund1 comp both bullseyes. On a rowdier tip, FUMU's Sinuate CD om YOUTH was a blistering, Robocop-grim showcase of hard-edged, sweaty-palmed industrial electro, wrong-techno and aggro hip-hop jams which (for us at least) hung together brilliantly well, and without compromise.
Between Nkisi, the clattering mayhem of that Acolytes LP (see below) and FFT (ditto), the dizzying dimension shifts of Martsman and Struktur, and the all-out cubist jak-attak of Steffi Grafs Innere Ruhe - it really felt like there was a crack team / dork orchestra trying to liberate TECHNO from it’s stagnant confines, chloroforming its plodding coke-numbed sentries and busting that mutha out - allowing it to inflict the JOYOUS BEWILDERMENT that it was always destined for. That first SGIR release on The News Cycle seemed to blow the lid off what human and machine could achieve with bleep-sequence: complex, cryptic but playful and compelling and bound by its own rock-solid internal logic, like some kind of Glass Bead Game designed by an alien civilisation way more sophisticated, and on way better drugs, than our own. FFT’s sideways grime/electro platter ‘FFT1’ on Uncertainty Principle was another club record that really stuck with us; the follow-up UP002 by Lårry was a stinker too! [that's Australian for good]. It didn't leave Kenny’s bag this whole year and we were there to witness him giving it a run at the Low Company x Idle Hands party at Cosies: half the munters slack-jawed taking in its power and the others charging the turntables for an ID. One of those.
Just when we thought we might've had enough of way-out takes on REPETITIVE BEATS (it’s been a long decade), along came south London misanthrope D. Shan aka Acolytes with Rupture, an utterly fresh and forcefully idiosyncratic offering that ignored all the rules of the game (OK easy) and basically came up with better ones (wuuuut). One of the tracks is called 'Autocannibalising Loop' and that pretty perfectly describes Shan's M.O...the opening 1-2 sounds like Danny Weed got abducted by mardy aliens and only escaped an unceremonious probing by agreeing to conduct their Martian military marching band, while ‘Aneurysm’ is darkside Trauner-ish tekno reduced to its beatless venomous essence and then spun out into droning, dub-crazed infinit-E. Is this the best record Alter have ever put out? Think so. Although the most recent Cremation Lily, In England Now, Underwater, isn't far behind - this suite of aqueous downer techno / minimal synth from what passes for the hidden-reverse these days got us through some particularly bleak morgens after nachts before, and for some reason was the only thing we could tolerate listening to when we had 'flu, which was all the time.
One Sunday in late summer, we found ourselves In Low Company Now, Underwater - when a concealed pipe burst and flood the shop with no small amount of grey-green and malodorous liquid (even now we really cling to the idea that it was water). Out to SANJAY, for his heroic ark-building, calmly and quickly evacuating hi-fi separates and Special Occasion LPs two-by-two - pausing only to be bitten by Silvia Kastel's new dog - and apologies to Estelle who, like Pierce Brosnan in Dante's Peak, tried in vein for days to warn us about the suspicious smell in the back office and the DISASTER it so clearly augured.
Of course much of the best and most SELLABLE dance stuff falls roughly in the middle of those two poles of comfy-slipper-familiarity and toothpaste-in-your-eyes future-shock, records whose NICENESS didn't compromise their freshness - notable hitz in this zone coming from Simo Cell, Gen Ludd, Benoit B, Low Jack, PG Sounds, Unperson and Pretty Sneaky. Would be hard pressed to argue that any radically new ground was broken with the luuuuush blue room / Detroit-to-Sheffield devotionals of Upsammy, SW. and Neurotribe but they were a JOY.
Not suggesting that it's SELFRIDGES now or anything, but there was a time when you could go a fair stretch in the shoppe without seeing a single godforsaken soul, mostly when the symptoms of Landan / chickentown are at their most wretched / evident and the weather is SHIT and everyone is SKINT and oh fer fuck's sake. We had a heavy dose of them doldrums towards the end of Spring, when Sanjay and CDF were off on what we still like to refer to as their "holiday" (gruelling month-long tour of the US), and Kiran was having the first of three discrete (and discreet!) nervous breakdowns and coming to terms with new FATHERHOOD. Two of the boldest and brightest in the land, Jim and Meg, were enlisted to fill our dog-eared rota: sadly their talents utilised only to give directions to dog-walkers and charge lost tourists' phones during what we now refer to as the DARK MEDIEVAL TIMES.
Those quiet afternoons can be bleak, but they're also when us lot, y’know, stop blethering / actually get some work done and, being truly alone, can BUN BACKGROUND MUSIC and get serious - which this year meant ungaraging the motorcycle-thru-yr-skull that is High Rise II or leaping headfirst into the all-consuming weather-system of Taj Mahal Travellers' August 1984 - both of these storied, inward-facing musical GIGANTORS having been revived in 2018 (courtesy Black Editions and Aguirre respectively). The aftershocks of these two records and their mega-bitches' brew of improv / free jazz, noise and burn-out psych, could be felt in a handful of crucial contemporary bits too: not least the dread-steeped electro-acoustic meditations of Scott Douglas Gordon and, of course, the baddest trip of all, Ilta Hamara’s Velloa single.
They were also part of a deluge of new or disinterred Japanese music that came out way, with Bitter Lake nudging the once unattainable 80s work of C. Memi, Neo Matisse and Diastereometer into our mortal realm, and EM striking gold with contemporary offerings from Osaka's goat (sadly destined to be forever confused with those Swedish geezers who dress up like total bell-ends, and Emerson Kitamura (Stereolab-esque curio The Countryside Is Great). Group A's frigid industrial/outrock, and Kufuki's jellied dancehall/minyo, also did the business. Bridging Japanese and UK underground sensibilities, O Yama O, delivered one of this year's most memorably square-peg LPs, file next to Still House Plants' defiantly strange synthesis of riot grrrl pique / bedsit Sade mooning. Should add that Die Weltraumforscher, though not a ‘2018’ artist - he's been around forever, and didn’t have a release this year - gave us a lot of listening pleasure this year, check those two LPs on Planam.
We'd almost grown sick of I Dischi Del Barone by year's close, such was the frequency, and unwavering dismal BEAUTY, of its 7"s salvos (from the likes of Drunk Elk’s, Korea Undok Group, Maxine Funke, Crazy Doberman, Faglar I Bur, Monokultur, Leda (Neutral) and Midnight Mines. In fact it was a banner year for the whole pasted-sleeve-loving Goteborg underground of which IDDB is a central node, with Förlag För Fri Musik offering up scabrous noise from Capers, woozy outsider pop from Blod, and fifty shades of industrial/free-rock grey on various-artist comp Bränn ner hela skiten. Top bloke, Blod -and star player in the logistical aneurysm that was the inaugural 'Low Company presents' (shit-)show at Cafe Oto, alongside Tropa Macaca and Acolytes.
A combined lack of focus and general misunderstanding of how much it costs to transport real people and real musical instruments across borders NEARLY brought us to our knees. But we persevered, the night a lot of fun possibly BECAUSE of our ignorance rather than in spite of it. Having blown his holiday money at the shop earlier in the day (good man!), Blods had us from the off, his opening motifs for piano and guitar all drowned in tape loops of what could easily have been Swedish Injury Lawyers 4u adverts - but somehow when combined with Gustav's delicate playing, felt like a direct line to the deeply personal, woozy pastoral ambience of a cold Swedish night spent in longing. The Macacas went on for extended synth / guitar fx shred that built and built and when combined with those crazy cloudy beers they serve up in Oto made for a dizzyingly psychedelic ride that could have gone on indefinitely, shortly followed by Acolytes, on who we’ve done plenty of blabbing already, so with the merits of his work as Acolytes already thoroughly argued, just rest assured that our boy thoroughly bruised it, rapt audience bound by a general bewilderment as to HOW ONE MAKES THOSE SOUNDS. Our next date at Cafe Oto is booked in for 16th March, you’d be mad to miss it.
Blod is also involved in the Omlott label, which brought us Arv & Miljö’s desolated synth rumination Sommar and Karin Johannsen & Finn Loxbo's spiky but ultra-spacious free jazz session Vent. Meanwhile Monokultur's JJ Ulius charmed our socks off with a 7" of breezy jangle-punk, and IDDB graduate Blue Chemise, aka Australia's Mark Gomes, blew us away with Daughters of Time - an album of DIY ambient miniatures, recorded to dictaphone, that somehow also sounds - at times, if you SQUINT - like a collection of beatless breakdowns from Source Direct records. Honestly have a listen! Over in the Netherlands, Enfant Terrible offshoot Vrystaete – responsible for some our favourite small-run releases of recent years from Brunnen, Brannten Schnure et al – maintained its impeccable standards with the chime-of-a-city-clock drone-spells of Blessum (oh bless 'em!) and crepuscular, barely-there torch-songs (did someone say trip-hop) from Bebe Fang.
Even the most boGolden-era English DIY has been a bit of an overfished pond in recent years, lavish vinyl reissues proliferating when an mp3 rip on Do Or D.I.Y. or three minutes of glory on a H2D CD would have definitely sufficed. The exceptions that prove thee rule: The Just Measurers’ Flagellation and Vic Serf’s Rock Y Roll. It’s a shame that a retrospective compilation of arguably the most gifted songwriter in that whole post-Homosexuals milieu, Robert Storey, sported the nonciest cover photo we've ever seen (and rendering it pretty much unsellable) - it was otherwise a perfect distillation of nigh-on 40 years’ worth of Murphy Federation / Orchestre Murphy / Murphy Working Stiffs material. The best Storey songs feel like TRUE post-punk in that they represent a drug-muddled, chronically self-aware but still thoroughly sincere response to exactly the kind of poetic British folk-rock and psychedelia that punk had declared verboten.
Unsurprisingly, Storey’s stuff reminds us a lot of an artist who has possibly endured more comparisons (here we go again) to Syd Barrett than anyone else, ever: The Doozer, whose Figurines LP on Feeding Tube was shimmering folk-rock classicism made eerie with unusual accents and embellishments - whispers not just of Syd but of Nick Nicely, Pip Proud, and Mayo's Corky's Debt To His Father. Two of 2018's best DIY revives were dredged from the Dutch canalways: the “brilliant, plodding art-slop” of How To Get Rich In Rotterdam, and two crucial volumes of mesmeric, ganja-steeped death-jazz and plangent tape-manipulations from Deadline Paranoia. Sometimes I think us and Paco Mus are the only people on earth who get a kick out of The Astronauts’ bittersweet, off-me'ead pop whimsy. How are Cleaners From Venus so well known but not the Astros?! Check '83's It’s All Done By Mirrors, reissued by LVEUM last December, a strange synthesis of English psych, free music and peace-punk featuring Lol Coxhill on three tracks. It's the authentic sound of a mind unravelling in an allotment shed, a very English despair: romantic and self-deprecating and hopelessly spangled. "I take a few drugs because I feel like the kick / and I smash up the room till I make myself sick / and it’s a laugh, not a grin -/ ‘What a nutter!’ they say, / ‘It’s part of the act though, he’s really OK.” Paco was also behind this year’s Omega Tribe reissue: more indispensable hippy-punk.
In November, Low Company's original founding foundlings - Kiran, Sanjay, Carla, Kenny - embarked on a field trip to Bristol for a genteel soundclash / sloppy dance off / shite-chat-skirmish with our Idle Hands counterparts (genteel until Kenny, like a kid who can't wait for his turn at Nintendo, but drunker, kept trying to shunt IH's Sam Hall off the decks so he could put on that FFT 12". Nice one, Sam, for not twatting him). All that competed were both winners and losers, highs of shouting friendly abuse at each other over Guiness soaked tables and Slaughter Mob records and lows of who’s house is this and why do I need to go to the toilet again?! This was also, incidentally, Carla's one documented "enjoyable night out" in 2018. Debauchery aside our Bristol counterparts have churned out some badboys in the past twelve months: Christian Jay's aforementioned, swung mnml maxi 'Katalox', Dan Habarnam's dub-techno battering rams ('Draw Your Pattern'), and an album of impeccably frayed, emotionally eloquent Bristol blooz, arranged in short, library-like cues, from the always good-value and literally unpronounceable O$VMV$M.
Seems that barely a month goes by without something from the bottomless Henning Christiansen archive emerging blinky-eyed into the light. Penultimate Press's edition of The Executioner - his score for wife Ursula’s Reuter Christiansen's 1971 debut film - was one to get excited about though, a mournful, stately, slow-motion folk implosion for piano and cello that will bring any latent sadness in you brimming unbidden to the surface. Catharsis! It was a good year for Mark Harwood’s PP, culminating in Francis Plagne's magnificent electro-acoustic suite Moss Trumpet (the album title that launched a thousand innuendos).
Over on Ultra Eczema, Dan Melchior & Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson's Dark Arc was something like a masterpiece, this, taking us back to that brief moment when what eventually would be termed “hypnagogic pop” felt like a portal to another dimension rather than a prelude to half the moneyed west growing porno ‘taches and making concept albums about ALF (or whatever). On Night School, the debut LP from Glasgow-based Cucina Povera was a perfectly judged marriage of stoic, so-sparse-it’s-barely-there minimal techno, leaky bedsit field recordings and her own sublimely hymnal vocals, although what we loved with this record is how she isn’t too in love with her own voice, she uses it judiciously, notably on highlights ‘Huhuilu’ and the cold, Terminator synth/folk-scape ‘Totean’, which sounds like Ksiezyc in cahoots with Sammy Osmo. So, so good.
Conjoint’s 2000 album Earprints, reissued on Demdike’s DDS, seemed to precipitate something of an electronic jazz revival (uh-oh!), culminating in Eli Keszler's formidable Stadium, which felt like the missing link between In A Silent Way, Photek’s ‘KJZ’, early Tortoise, and Villalobos’s The Au Harem D’Archimede. And John Tchichai's John Tchicai on Strings, a 2000s Treader CD made available on wax for the first time this year, with with a strong whiff of 70s ECM, blew us away.
Delving further into the ongoing archival avalanche, which we are certainly party to but try not to lose ourselves in (THERE IS GOOD MUSIC BEING MADE NOW)....one that really left a dent, or at least felt like it was very much offering something NEW to the precious present moment was the stunning collection of previously unreleased works of the Maciunas Ensemble - plucking out-there nuggets of invention from 1982 all the way to 2012(!). This one has LEGS. We were also blessed with the chance to babble once again about the power and MYSTERY of the Chen Yi collection, still unsure of whether it is a liberating revelation in DIY music or just a massive practical joke - SHIT - it is almost certainly BOTH. And what a treat to be reunited with Vous Et Nous, Brigitte Fontaine & Areski's visionary assemblage of electronic experiments, North African trance, refined acoustics and medieval drones…This lot, combined with revivals of nowt-short-of-life-affirming NY Jazz / Modern Composition LPs in Garrett List's Your Own Self and Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together (both on Black Sweat, who also brought us the essential Bitter Funeral Beer Band session) AND a rerun of Pierre Henry’s Orphee Ballet, left us pretty certain that we would never have to leave the house again for the abundance of eternal, groundbreaking albums that were coming through the shoppe. Money for old rope?! Eh, YES PLEASE.
Sadly you can't make every customer happy. Out to the in-mate at HM Prison Bullingdon, who wrote us a letter very politely asking if we could supply him with some rare Edgar Froese and Eno (Textures!) CDs (we couldn't - though not for lack of trying). Insert Ambient 5: Music For Correctional Facilities gags HERE. Also impossible to make happy: Sanjay. His Another Dark Age label – which if you ask us (not him!) has never put a foot wrong – contented itself with just two 7” releases in 2018, Traffic Island Sound’s All Aboard and Mikey Shanahan’s salty murder ballads ‘Civic Suicide’/’The Lake’. Check these if you haven't already. We should also take this opportunity to share our ELATION that Sanjay and Carla, after much form-filling and case-pleading (and a small fortune in legal fees), have been given permission by the powers that be to live in the UK for the foreseeable future. No escape, for them or for us. YASS!!!!!
Like many a exiled Australian before them, SF and CDF have adapted pretty quickly and uncomplainingly to the London damp and gloom. Distraction is key. During the more clement months - March to October usually, and tbf this year they were VERY CLEMENT indeed - we do regular, very informal in-stores with mates and out-of-towners passing through. This year's guests included Golden Pudel's Nina and Phuong-Dan, Biscuit (Good Morning Tapes), XVARR, Moopie (A Colourful Storm), Will Bankhead, Time Is Away, Andy Mac... Everyone was great, but the stand-outs are unmistakeable: Dervla and Paco (pictured somewhere way above), and their DIY/disko-punk/frio-wave 7" THROWDOWN barely a week ago for our Chrimbo pre-party, and the veritable DEATH-RACE-3000 that was James Singer's hardstyle/gabba spectacular back in August.
Sick to death of stygian inward-looking cold wave (chin up!), the upful and extrovert tended to stand-out: see Bastion’s bright, brisk, ebullient Yugo-NRG, the tensile, idiosyncratic synth-pop and post-punk collected on Bongo Joe’s La Contra Ola comp, or Siekiera’s muscular Polish darkwave classic Nowa Aleksandria, reissued by Mannequin. Speaking of COLD WAVES, February’s “Beast From The East” – essentially some strong winds that brought English society to the brink of collapse – was soundtracked by XVARR’s Beyond Illuminism: intense, rarefied ritual/sidereal electronics from a London-based child of Thule (and beloved LC customer, and wearer of fine gloves), Zaheer Gulamhusein. He followed it up with the elegiac industrial dance of Aeons Revolve (great 12"!), and the Serpent Power CS for Good Morning Tapes...SO XVARR SO GOOD.
The nice thing about having a bricks 'n mortar shop is that the people behind the records are a bit more visible (sometimes this is also a problem, but let's not dwell on that today, 'tis the season of GOOD CHEER). A number of beloved customers slyly and unassumingly brought the goods: Blackwater with their strange cartographies of 154/Pole-esque dub-smudge and Anatolian found sounds, Ren Container with his third LP for Spectrum Spools (he also put out that sick Wilted Woman tape on his Plastic Bags label, saved our lives with the loan of some tape decks for that Blod gig, AND let us cadge several hundred fags off him - thank you!); O Yuki Conjugate's icy, magisterial Scene In Mirage was reissued (don't think there was a single person we passed this record to who didn't buy it), the music truly does the talking, and our favourite trade customer Mr Bankhead had a busy 'n fruitful year with the The Trilogy Tapes (Docile 12" as we mentioned, but see also DJ Residue and that spiky Metasplice 2LP - so underrated!). When musicians start trying to make records with their toddler offspring, it's usually a sign they've lost their mojo - for GOOD. So when Mat of Jam Money and Spillage Fete (very recently lost to Norwich!) told us he'd made an album with his partner Aimee and their 1-year-old daughter Agnes, we braced ourselves for the worst; we certainly weren't expecting a record as rich or eerie or emotionally ambiguous as A Happy Return - all Arcadian chamber-folk instrumentation (guitar, violin, woodwind, hand-percussion), disorienting tape loops, spacey minimal synth textures and strange little ecologies of found-sound, recommended for anyone into Plinth, Woo, Flaming Tunes, Movietone++.
BEST CUSTOMER RECORD OF THE YEAR, though, came in the form of Mosquitoes' self-titled LP, and its malarial shudders of out-rock abstraction. This band's name has really become them: their music being a swarming, insistent, decentralised attack, as mesmerising as it is MALEVOLENT. Dream-dance of the disease-carrying parasites! Funnily enough, our very last copy of this handsomely silkscreened LP was in Kenny's backpack when he came off his bike on that fateful summer night. Kenny survived but the record DID NOT. Good for us but not for the customer whose order we had to cancel. Sorry. Mozzies Dominic and Peter's subsequent tape and 7" as Komare were also cool.
As for best STAFF offering of the year, well there ain't much competition (we eagerly await Sanjay's debut LP), but we suspect even if there WAS then Carla's Top of The Pops, an initially tour-only tape consisting entirely of covers (sneaky!) , would come out on, er, top. Actually CDF has been focussing on recording and touring this year so her appearances in the shop tended to be strictly social; she's done enough porridge to last a lifetime, though - I'm not sure anything, ever, will capture the atmosphere working at LC better than this video.
OK... that's it. You made it to the end! We ran out of time, if not things to say. Ought to stick around to check the above for typos, omissions etc, but there literally are no minutes left...our staff xmas party began 47 minutes ago. A bunch of images and hyperlinks are missing and, well, anyway, as is surely obvious to you by now, PERFECTION is not a concept that Low Company understands. So...take us as we are. All that remains is for us to wish you a very SOLID xmas and new year, and to thank you again for your custom and support in 2018. We'll see you in the BRAVE NEW WORLD of 2019...if not before.