2020 is over, but a handful of overlooked releases still occupy the blood cells that flow through the arteries of the music web. These are the releases that got away, deserve a second look, or were never found at all. Consider this list the rawer, more underground cousin to 20 Albums of 2020. In no particular order, introducing Discipline Mag’s Live, Local & Underground 2020.
Anthony Cooley is a Melbourne artist and sole contributor to DFFDL. DFFDL’s 2020 release, Corella, meshes gentle waves of droning synth into the atmospheric nothingness that surrounds us. But is it relaxing? Let’s just say on a scale of comforting to harrowing it’s a subtle yet dramatic tilt toward the latter.
The continuous ambient drone is the kind of sound track you’d expect while summiting icy peaks. Complimenting not the journey, but the sight of your best friend being mauled by a polar bear. That stunned sense of helplessness and disarray provoked by unforeseen circumstance that has the ability to completely alter your life in a matter of milliseconds. Corella raises no questions and gives no answers. Though it does take you somewhere, it just leaves it up to you to find your way back.
Some of Discipline Mag’s more ardent followers might remember Lansanese’s chaotic appearance from Jogja Noise Bombing Festival 2020: The Film released earlier last year. The part Indonesian part American group have harnessed said live energy into Total Anjink, managing to hold it together just long enough to put almost 40 minutes of grunge tinged noise rock to record.
Lyrically and musically, Total Anjink is about everything we could expect from such noisy practitioners. Messy guitar and screeching electronics are carried by deceptively sustained percussion while an undertone of provocative lyricism further disconcerts. Code switching between Bahasa and English runs rampant. Despite Indonesia’s unflinching cultural and underground integrity, it has a deep undercurrent of conservatism with one region (Banda Aceh) under Sharia Law, so this content is pretty wild by local standards. Tracks like Everyone Is Gay, Total Anjink (Total Dog), and Mencari Bapak Warung Obat Pria (Looking for the owner of the sex/viagra shop) are more than sufficient to set-off a fundamentalist or two. The mix of trash rock and smut being most easily comparable to Brainbombs, though the tone is more celebratory than overtly offensive. Standouts include Cuangcipit, Sahur, Take a Look-look, and the graphic cover art.
Tzii & PGR
Harsh, wild, and jittery. This live set includes a combo of Tzii from Belgium and PGR from Italy performing live from two locations in Indonesia. If these names look familiar, that’s because these two artists were also featured in Jogja Noise Bombing Fest 2020: The Film (the explosive ender belonging to PGR).
Tzii is a Belgian (former Frenchman) sound artist who not only produces noise and experimental music for passion, but also professionally for a living. PGR on the other hand is an Italian multi-instrumentalist whose cacophonous mesh of high frequencies should in no way be mistaken for lack of formal musical training or ability. In this live setting, Tzii and PGR jam out an ebb and flow that finds its groove in respectfully accentuating each other’s strengths through the shambles of sonic chaos. Both tracks start much the same – with harsh, fractured feedback that gives Tzii’s more sustained squeals of pedal noise the chance to dip in, dip out, and compete with his counterpart. PGR on the other hand produces savage, harsh, and unrelenting waves of static and loops that assault the listener and often take lead.
Side A was recorded in Malang and Side B was recorded in Ubud, Bali. This limited digital/cassette release serving as a memento of the tour and providing access to PGR whose lack of online presence makes him practically impossible to find if it were not for the Soundcloud link on this release’s Bandcamp page (listed below). And just in case you’re wondering, this is a different PGR to the one who collaborated with Merzbow in the 90s.
Death metal from Bangladesh. ChronicleS consists of five eager young men who are hellbent on tapping into the sound and dark thematic traditions of their genre. Morbid Angel, Death and many other death metal progenitors are what immediately spring to mind during the five tracks on this demo release. Opening with the acoustic and growl-laden, The Ritual Of Druj-Nasu, this murky opener is a fine set-up for what follows: intensity, super-fast riffing, incessant growls, and a tasteful cover of Hellhammer’s Messiah. Appropriately lo-fi and swimming in occult influences (explained better than I could in the Bandcamp link below), ChronicleS’ ambition and technical proficiency should serve them well in the coming years. In a setting where extreme and blasphemous music are met with more boundaries than support, the passion behind this work is infectious. Consult Discipline Mag’s escapade to Bangladesh for info on the band’s live show and the wider scene of extreme metal in Dhaka.
Cementation Anxiety play ambient drone from their home of New Jersey that mixes atmospheric ambience with thought provoking sonic excursion. On first impression, In Continual feels evocative of icy vastness, owing to its visual whiteness, opening track title, Thaw, and its album art. Such parallels are not merely superficial and drift their way into the music itself. As the title loosely implies, there appears to be a journey and narrative trapped within this release. With ethereal synths being a defining trope, processed guitar does make appearances on the tracks Halfhearted and He Forgets Not His Own, bringing a kind of dream-pop quality along with it. Track 3, Ava, functions as the harshest piece on the album. Washed with dense abrasion, a meandering synth chord does manage to wallow in the depths. Functioning as an interlude of sorts, The Locks Are Not Enough holds a kind of ritualistic death industrial atmosphere and seems to compliment end track, He Forgets His Own, with its cool synths and break out ending. Overall, In Continual flows nicely and is demonstrative of professionalism both in ability and production.
The Death Toll of Democracy
Subversive industrial metal that hails from the arid cesspit of excess often referred to as California. The work of sole member, “Argon Hellstar”, Talk Show is fitted out with drum machine and downtuned bass, making the influence of early Godflesh unmissable. Strategic samples of provocative news snippets drive The Death Toll of Democracy’s thematic motif of non-existent egalitarianism and growing social disparity, with the screamed and almost blackened vocals following a similar agenda. Tracks like Piss Earth and Talk Show Two exhibit the mutual benefits of mechanised riffs and electronics, while The Trial of an Irresponsible Hedonist and Carnage Star demonstrate Talk Show’s capacity for rhythmic electronics. A fitting vehicle to wage “audial ontological warfare on dominant ideologies.”
Often abbreviated as RSK, this industrial project from Sydney has released a handful of short releases in their unique style and Undeath is three tracks of ominous industrial darkness. Producing vocals in their trademark whisper, this characteristic only heightens the atmosphere and blends with the instrumentation of lurking synth drone. While the three letter RSK moniker draws an immediate comparison to SPK, sonically this sits closer to the likes of Skinny Puppy’s Too Dark Park or Sleep Chamber’s more esoteric releases. Being the first release since the 2000s, Undeath sees RSK revitalised for the first time in over a decade.
From Melbourne, the self-declared influence of early 80s British power electronics is a claim that’s worn on NONTOPIA’s sleeve. A creative and transgressive outing that harnesses the free form, lack of rules, and liberation that few other genres can.
RIYL early power elex
Senyawa & Stephen O’ Malley
The seed that bore the fruits that are this release was apparently planted during a 2017 trip to Indonesia by Sunn O)))’s monolith of drone, Stephen O’ Malley (SOMA). While in YogYakarta, SOMA hunted down Senyawa’s Wukir Suryadi and Rully Shabara alas forming a union which later saw the three collaborate on a live performance in 2018 in Belgium. Fast forward to 2020 and the global community has finally been treated to the recording of this performance.
An important footnote lies with Senyawa – whose home country of Indonesia is criminally overlooked in terms of cultural acknowledgement. Though the duo have been slowly amending this with increasing European performances (pre-COVID, of course), inclusion on the Red Dead Redemption 2’s soundtrack, and ever widening recognition in experimental music circles. SOMA’s endorsement and collaboration only further stimulating the duo’s upward trajectory.
The release itself finds Senyawa and SOMA on equal footing; SOMA’s rumbling guitar being a constant presence, but falling short of taking primacy. Spine tingling Indonesian flute and ominous drone both open and close Bima Sakti on the respective and complimentary tracks, Dewi Hera parts 1 and 2. Sandwiched between lies Senyawa’s indecipherable vocals, ranging from low and buried croaks and moans through to what can sound like the ramblings of a nonsensical street-preacher (even fitted with manic laughter of self-approval). Over foundations of guitar and voice, traditional Indonesian string and wind instruments are scattered throughout, guiding the tracks through their characteristic misuse. Meditative and introspective, Bima Sakti showcases the dynamic qualities of the parties involved, all of whom more than capable of destruction, harmony, and tension in its various forms. Take note of Senyawa’s upcoming album Alkisah and its democratic release campaign in 2021.
Discipline Mag reviewed this in full. A glitchy work from the man behind the drone and noise of Worgor.
Dead in Japan
Muddy Lawrence is the solo noise side project from Diploid’s Reece Prain. If our records are correct, Muddy Lawrence had four releases in 2020, one of which, Rapidly Increasing, was discussed in this Discipline Mag interview with Reece from April last year. As Rapidly Increasing has already been discussed and in the interest of avoiding favouritism, I have just chosen one release to be featured here – the live album Dead In Japan because I think live albums are pretty sweet.
Clocking in only shortly over 10 minutes in length across three tracks, this release is discreet by both stature and sound. The opening track’s quiet intro allows enough space for a confusing mix of Japanese room chatter and samples to flow into one. Track two gives a little bit of guitar (hinted to be part of ML’s upcoming set at The Last Stand on 29 Jan 2021) and track three is 30 seconds of what sounds like secretly recorded audio of a girl singing.
Black Moon Tapes
Since discovering Pakistani doom metal band Dusk in a bonus section to VICE’s Guide to Karachi (2012) I’ve been kind of obsessed by how agreeable art is expressed in different contexts. Throughout that film, it seemed like the only local who made any sense was the one who had rebelled against societal conventions. Becoming a lifelong Dusk fan, the release of Black Moon Tapes, a collection of two unused demos recorded in Singapore in 2010, has been warmly welcomed. The two tracks here appear to depart from the traditionally doom content of Dusk. Instead, we get death/thrash/rock’n’roll inspired by the likes of Dead Moon. Track 1 Soul Sabotage is all guns blazing thrash attack. Track two Age of Intellect takes far more time to exploit its intro before descending into speed metal mayhem. I speculate that this release is symbolic of more things to come from Dusk in the near future.
Watch Dusk’s Babar Sheikh play tour guide in Karachi
The Birthdays Continue…
Work from Eric Wood seldom disappoints, and this low-key live release is of no exception. Credited to Wood and Saira Huff, Wood’s opening speech about artistic violence and human love is a rather uplifting sentiment. Though warmth and fuzziness are only short lived as Wood’s call to Bastard Noiseeeee becomes an incitement to the sonic violence he’d previously referenced.
Soft, yet antagonistic electronics rise before pedal squeals welcome Huff’s screams. Riding this formula out for 8 minutes gives way to track two, What Will, which includes Wood’s distinctively deep growls before static abandon subsequently takes the reigns. Swirling feedback and the rising presence of background haze carry track 3, Seeking Speaking, into the closer, Continually. Continually is a track that’s especially prone to breakouts and revels in doing so, closing the curtains at a height of chaos, mess, and unpredictability. The audience give the release’s title some context by wishing Happy Birthday to an unknown recipient at the close of the set. An uncommon mix of brutal noise and humane sentiments.
Vault Deprogrammer + Brown Piss
This is one vile piece of racket. With 18 contributions that only once surpass a minute, Vault Deprogrammer is like having your face jackhammered while being engulfed in the violent hiss of a gas leak. Tracks like Rigorous Defecation, Effervescent Excretions, Uninspirational Urination, and Horrendous Secretions are a nice compliment to the occupants of Side B, Brown Piss. Brown Piss exhibit four unrestrained tracks of harsh noise and processed screams. While Brown Piss has a reckless amount of miscellaneous releases to their name, this is the first outing from Vault Deprogrammer who are disguised by pseudonyms, but are suspected to share members with Melbourne’s Whitehorse.
The Flesh of the World
With her continued adoration from “the internet’s busiest music nerd”, Anthony Fantano, Melbourne’s Xandra Metcalf (aka Uboa) appears to be living every contemporary musician’s wet dream. After a glowing review of The Origin of My Depression on Fantano’s theneedledrop YouTube channel, Uboa’s deeply tortured and personal brand of noise music has been enjoying some much-deserved time in the spotlight.
On The Flesh of the World there is a noticeable shift toward more synth orientated sounds that take prominence over the shattering noise we may have come to expect. Exsanguination opens the EP with a harmonisation of synth and vocals that float their way into Inside/Outside. Flexing vocal abrasion and cynicism with ambiguous synth passages, it rounds out with a subtle crackle of noise. God Unbounded is a memorable and structured track that is perhaps best defined by its chant, “I hate you, god”. Concluding in a manner not dissimilar to its introduction, the closer/title track’s dreaminess is eventually overridden by its rising tension. Self-declared as “less ambitious”, it seems even this slightly more measured release wasn’t sly enough to escape Fantano’s attention as it made his list of top 15 EPs from 2020. All mentions on theneedledrop are listed below:
Review of The Origin of my Depression
Best albums of 2019
Roasting Your Top Albums
Best Eps of 2020
Listen to The Flesh of the World
Live Perfomance [PMM Live Series Vol. 1]
China’s premiere noise artist, Torturing Nurse, has A LOT of releases. In fact, the array of splits, comps, and CDrs is so vast that not even Discogs can be trusted to keep tabs on his work, instead relying on a self-updated Google Doc (Available here). Formerly a group but now the solo endeavour of sole-surviving member, Junky, I have decided to include only 1 of Torturing Nurse’s supposed 25 releases from 2020. This release was chosen for a few reasons: because I have a soft spot for live albums, for being first cab off the rank (Vol. 1) in an apparent series of live albums, and because I believe this is the first live album I’ve heard that was recorded in mainland China.
Speaking to its place of recording, 6 of the 7 tracks were recorded in Shanghai between 2016 to 2019, with the last track performed in Barcelona. Predominantly coming from China’s financial capital, it’s interesting to focus on the audience reaction from crowds who are from a city that does have an underground, albeit not a very large one (and notably smaller than the capital’s). In general, these tracks sit comfortably around a level of quite to very harsh on the noise spectrum. There are plenty of loops and pedal noise but also a drum kit in some tracks. When apparent, the vocals are a (figurative) sight to behold, often comprising of unhinged explosions of grunts, noises, and non-lingual communications. There is a sense of free-form primitivism in these tracks, like these ideas had the smallest of planning and the highest degree of exploration. It’s these qualities that are among the most appealing for Torturing Nurse – the sheer excess and total lack of boundaries that are forever disregarded.