Monday, 9 March 2015

genre vagrancy

from The Wire, April 2015
Steven Ball
Collected Local Songs
Bandcamp DL

Steven Ball is one half of Storm Bugs, a South East London duo who played a key role in the late 1970s/early 1980s cassette movement. Bending circuits, scratching vinyl, mutilating melody: they created a strangely liberated form of proto-industrial arte povera that, rediscovered and reissued over the last decade, has held up remarkably well. Loosely affiliated with that period’s DIY groups, Storm Bugs still feel uncaptured. Ball’s subsequent activities, moving across spoken word, video and installation, testify to his restless energy and genre vagrancy.

Collected Local Songs, while quieter in register, is equally intriguing. It's a drifting, sometimes aleatory assemblage of signs and signals encountered in South London's Deptford and New Cross. Ball sees the city as plunderphonic terrain, and this music is built up from layers of centifugal texts: ghost signs, ringtones, viral marketing skywriting, fragments of overheard speech. "Cloud Of Dreams" comes across like an old blues song written by conceptual architects Metahaven: "Woke up one morning/Singing phrases from a dream/Into his mobile phone".

There's drift and ambulation here. Memories, fragmented and not always lucid, act as bulwarks against capitalism's amnesia. The city is battered but not down for the count. It recalls the cussed melancholy of Jem Cohen’s films, or Stephen Dwoskin's Jesus Blood, the South London film best known for its Gavin Bryars score. Sometimes Ball’s vocals are a touch too measured, making "Deptford Flea Market lnterlude" - comprised of found sounds such as junglist beats and street stall patter - all the more potent. Collected Local Songs may be a discographic side swerve for him, but it's a resonant and very effective one.

Sukhdev Sandhu

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