Cally Callomon finds an unexpectedly poetic synchronicity between recent albums by Burial and Stick in the Wheel, and life’s roadside detritus.
Flytip Number 5:
Brookmans Park, Herts. Mixed media nappies and duvet.
2022 Artist unknown. Public Collection
During my many years of cycling lanes in this countryside I have often been confronted by the contents of somebody’s bathroom dumped in a layby or passing place, usually down a tiny road, probably at night, often by the firm that fitted a new bathroom or kitchen, a firm who couldn’t be bothered to pay the fee for disposal at a local ‘re-cycling centre’. I read that the average life of any kitchen is just five years, so that’s a lot of tiles, asbestos, formica, veneer and porcelain any landfill would have to accommodate.
Our local paper runs letters by disgusted readers when this happens. ‘Gypsies’ are often targeted, local Councils spend dwindling tax income on collecting the tippings and disposing of them. Though equally appalled I am also fascinated by the array of hastily jettisoned goods. I’ve started to photograph these heaps of spoil: the black bin-bags, the orange and yello children’s toys, the heaps of smashed white china, all detritus of an era in which we own too much stuff. All of it rejected, none of it welcome.
I’m not alone: Ben Myers describes these dumplings beautifully in his Under The Rock book, Bill Drummond writes about a doll’s face peering out of the mud on a Birmingham canal towpath and Ben Watt heroically leads the charge to rid a north London reservoir of mankind’s unwanted, all the while I am bemused and confused as to the origin of this human spraint and am intrigued by its unheralded arrival, often at night, always on purpose.
Nothing ‘fell off the back of a lorry’ these days.
I started to appreciate the correlation between all of this and its musical counterparts. A new Burial album seemed to get dumped in my collection unheralded but most welcome. I cannot see the proprietors at his label Hyperdub holding lengthy marketing and strategy meetings when it comes to unleashing a new Burial EP. Though once clouded in mystery, William Emmanuel Bevan happily revealed he was Burial and thus mystery became mystique. The recent EP Antidawn was flytipped at night; it consists of abandoned rejected fragments, overheard conversations, not unlike those first two Scanner albums that trawled the megahertz and dropped in on analogue mobile phone calls. What makes this ‘new’ jettisoned Burial release all the more delightful is the absence of beats. This is where dub-step which became two-step has become none-step
The greatest dance music doesn’t pin the listener to four-on-the-floor unless the dancer is so inept they need to know where the bar starts and ends (and inebriation often demands such determination). James Brown never relied on such strictures, his bar started on silence, the dancer’s foot fall filled the gap. Reggae is about what happens off — not on — the beat. Bevan has taken this step less trodden. What we get is a camouflage of detritus, a true portrait of city streets and those grimy corners between shops — his collage is the true folk music of London today, hopeful and hopeless often within the same track.
A new reliance on the church organ brings in a welcome grandeur not heard since the ‘Chamsin Soundtrack’ days of Amon Düül II or the glisten found woven into the KLF’s Chill Out adventure. Repeated motifs and care-worn vocals give us just enough bearings within the song; this is a bitches brew — a carefully edited and plotted set of lengthy scenes — like a series of once-loved accoutrements dumped by the side of the road.
Flytip No. 34 Montlhery, France. Mixed Media, pallet and binbags.
2002 Artist Unknown. Public Collection.
Almost simultaneously the dependable Stick in the Wheel (Nicola Kearey and Ian Carter) collaborate with three extra builders: Leicester’s Jon1st, a former DMC scratch champion/turntablist; the musician, producer and broadcaster Nabihah Iqbal of Pakistani heritage; and the Nigerian born Olugbenga, best known for his work with Metronomy, all five steeped in the fitted kitchen that is London Town.
Their resource is the sleeping giant of a library of Traditional Music found at the foot of the aptly titled Primrose Hill in London. Stick in the Wheel gained access to the Vaughan Williams Library held in Cecil Sharp House and ran amok amongst the fragments, scraps, cassettes, notes and old vinyl found therein, so much of it fragments and unfinished pieces attributed to the collector, not so often to the originator, like (as Olugbenga describes) a pinned butterfly — where the very art of collecting renders the subject dead. He asks if the library will, in 50 years’ time, house grime and other such music made by the folk of London or whether ‘it’s old — it’s traditional’ is the entry criteria — one where new links in old chains are not recognised until after they become extinct.
Ironically, so much of the music held there was collected for fear of it becoming extinct, moments frozen in time but now defrosted in the most exciting way by a sense of adventure and a lack of convention. They give is new Perspectives On Tradition.
As with Burial, nothing here is included simply because ‘it sounds good’. Both releases are propelled by a deliberation of approach, a seemingly rigorous policing and assembly of sound. If either of these were collages they’d be by Kurt Schwitters or a box by Joseph Cornell, seemingly random only at first, deeply rewarding by the deep dive, made for those who listen on purpose.
This particular stick in the wheel happens to be thrust into my spokes for fear I blindly drift past the abandoned unwanted heaps found in laybys, as if me not stopping to look may make the piles disappear or become something for ‘someone else’ to take care of. It’s often been said that when it comes to throwing stuff away there is no away. In these days of polished perfected shiny pop it is so good to have the bits of old stuff that lay neglected for so long bought to my attention. Rehabilitated, repurposed on purpose.
Folk Music will not become a knackered old diesel coach full of happy holidaymakers providing we have artists such as these to propel it ever forward, thus it will never be parked up in a layby any time soon.
Burial’s ‘Antidawn’ is out now on Hyperdub.
Available with accompanying book, Stick in the Wheel’s ‘Perspectives On Tradition’ is out now on From Here Records.