Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Michael Smith

Michael Smith | 5th December 2013


In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments:

Highs, lows and music of 2013:

My only low of 2013, really, was that money was so tight, and always a worry, as I juggled with the ever-decreasing cheques of the incredible shrinking creative industries. That aside, I found the artistic aspect of work extremely satisfying this year, having finally put out the difficult second novel I spent two or three years staring at into the wee small hours, blue-tacked all over the walls of my room like the shed of the bloke in A Beautiful Mind. The unexpected icing in the cake was doing a musical version of the book with Andrew Weatherall, who magically translated it into an enchanting series of drone-scapes like a big-bearded wizard.

Making a series of short films with my old friend Maxy Bianco about the strange North Eastern port we grew up in was also a brilliant project to work on, as was seeing the films play at the Durham Book Festival and the Baltic in Newcastle – a lovely kind of homecoming, as the Baltic, and that whole epic city vista clambering along the banks of the Tyne, has a deep and special resonance for me …

In another lovely compromise between work and play, I enjoyed Festival No.6 immensely this year – the primordial, mythic setting of the mountains and the estuary and the weird victorian fantasia of Portmerion village were a perfect place to get quietly battered in a grown up, Barbour-jacketed kind of way; the place was also packed with loads of great discos, as you might expect from Manchester’s rainy Welsh beach resort.

As for the music I’ve been enjoying over the last year (or two), I was excited about it in a way I hadn’t been for quite a number of years beforehand. In the noughties it all seemed to go a bit regressive and safe and trad. I found all those skinny-jeaned kids making a racket on their guitars and pretending they were in CBGBs a terrible bore and it sort of turned me away from new music for a bit, and I sulked off into the back catalogues of Miles Davis and Can for a few years. I probably got it all wrong and missed loads of good stuff but that’s how it seemed to me.

Thankfully I recently became aware of a swathe of stuff that feels like it’s developing and extending the experiment that was bubbling away when I was just the right age for music to mean everything to me (15), at the cusp of the 90s when the artier side of the indie sensibility first cross-pollinated with the new electronic textures and possibilities of house music, and the rich, strange mutant superbug that resulted had its brief epidemic.

Being exactly the right age for it, it sort of set the template for me, and it always seemed to me that this was the terrain that new music ought to be exploring; a year or two ago the penny dropped that a similar process had been going on again right under my nose for a few years, with a similar spirit of openness, eccentricity and experimentation, only this time round the fusion has broadened out to include a far wider palate, with garage basslines under crackly, bluesy analogue textures, My Bloody Valentine feedback drenching jittery Timbaland hi-hats, or Roxy Music disco re-edits that my girlfriend called, appropriately, “80s sex case music”. Here’s a couple of these tracks I’ve enjoyed during my internet noodlings:

Avalon – Roxy Music (Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas version)
Room Without A Key – Studio
Swingin Party – Kindness
Manhattan – Cat Power
Close To You – Harvey (Soulclap mix)
Redlights – Salem
Gabriel – Joe Goddard
Stolen Dog – Burial

We have a couple of copies of the limited edition version of Michael and Andrew’s Unreal City collaboration in the Caught by the River shop, priced £35.