Friday, February 18, 2005


It's crunch time for lyrics. Having decided that a few of our songs (Jordan Baker, Embers) can't really develop without some lyrical wrangling, yours truly gotta knuckle down to the wordy-wordy.

I work part time at the BBC. Down in the dark vaults of Broadcasting House they have a store of all the rushes shot for their ketchup-happy "999" series, in which terrifying accidents are merrily dramatised for your viewing pleasure. I'm fascinated by these shelves, labelled up in amateur fashion with yellow 'post-it' notes detailing the nature of the tragedies enacted upon each set of tapes; "Hand Crush," "Long Horse Crawl," "Snooker Cue," "Spanish Heart," "Rusty Bolt," and intriguingly, "Pub Surgery."

There are others...

"Bell Tower"
"Tree Surgeon"
"Dinghy Girls"
"Bike Fork"
"Lead Mine"
"Coat Hanger"
"Paddling Pool"
"Surrey Drain Rescue"
"Insect Demo"
"Rotherham Treefall"
"Neck Break"
"Snow Girls"
"Blind Swim & Plumber's Mate"
"Harbour Drowning"
"800 ft fall"
"Ice Trap"
"Taxi Hero"
"Wasp Man Testimony"
"Devil's Bridge"
"Smokey Joe"
"Penn Hotel Fire & Rotivator"
"Wet Leaves"
"Spanish Trawler & American Cormorant"
"Lift Shaft Testimony"
"Jaffa The Pony"
"Trench Man, Indian Earth, Dangling Baby & other bits"
"White Knuckle Worker"
"Shocked Farmer"
"Interactive Choking"
"Inverness Car Crash"

Each is a little story that leaps from the label at you and spirals off on its own. It sort of reminds me of Forced Entertainment and the shows they do in which home-made signs are whipped onto stage at speed, with the performers briefly doing a pose or action inspired by whatever's scrawled on the scrappy bit of cardboard they've picked up:

I can see something similarly fleeting but powerful in the "999" post-it notes. I'm imagining a love song written around a series of appalling accidents. "A Lift Shaft / A Taxi / A Wheelchair / An Ice Trap / A Car Crash / A Doctor / And you..."

"Baby you're so good at getting dead /An amateur like me, well... / the ice refused to break / the sniper got distracted / the guillotine was fake"

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Drum problem solved. I won't bore you with technical details except to say that it involved the use of some reclaimed polystyrene and the electric motor from a toy Dalek.

Last night we dragged all our live backline kit into a new rehearsal studio. It's a half-empty converted factory in the middle of nowhere: this is part of a pattern, in that over the last few years we have moved into a series of different rehearsal spaces which have taken us further and further away from any recognisable civilisation. And with good cause.

angel tech rehearsal spaces 1995 - 2005
The first in a series designed to bore you so much you'll want to eat your own neck.

Number One: The "V.A.R."

Our first room was a green hut next to the Bristol University Institute Of Grinding Technology. The University's Drama and Film department had claimed it as a sort of theatrical outpost equipped with basic lighting rig, wraparound black curtains and a pair of huge Orange speakers haphazardly wired up to a domestic hi-fi. It was inhabited by a) Drama Students and b) Cockroaches. The drama students would hang around eating the remnants of food purchased in the nearby ESSO garage, and the cockroaches would put on productions of Mother Courage and Waiting For Godot. During the quiet summer months we claimed the hut for the greater glory of angel tech and stayed up all night trying to find our "sound." Doug was in love with the fact that our rehearsal studio had a lighting rig, and spent most of the time doing "smooth fades."

And here is the key: this rehearsal room was too interesting. Never have anything even potentially interesting in your rehearsal room, like a pool table, or a lighting rig, or a series of periodicals telling you how to make a scale model of the Cutty Sark. It will distract you from the proper business of being in a band, such as arguing about where exactly, and with what force, the guitar should be stuck.

Number Two: The Student Union

In common with most student unions throughout the country, Bristol University's was run on a "fuck off, you fucking students" policy by staff who would have been happier working in an unregulated abattoir pulling BSE-infected spinal cords from month-old carcasses with their own teeth. The "rock band rehearsal room" was a converted chair-stacking facility ON THE TOP FLOOR of the six-storey Union with a dirty glass roof that had the combined effect of broiling you alive whilst not actually letting you see any proper daylight. In order to book it out you first had to persuade the porter staff to let you have the relevant forms, and then countersign them in three different places, leaving your student identification, 3 examples of domestic billing as proof of address plus a blood sample, before swearing an oath of allegiance to the Queen and giving a "secret handshake." In the event of ever successfully entering the room, you also had to retrieve the cheap-ass PA from the depths of the porters' office and lug it to the top floor (the lifts were often out of order) where, upon plugging it in, you would realise that you'd get better results amplifying your vocals by singing into an empty plastic dustbin. The room had no furniture at all and its walls were made up of rickety banks of wooden "lockers" in which bands stored their equipment. This meant you were surrounded by a forest of padlocks, and every single one seemed to vibrate whenever a 'D' was played on the bass. Look at all the early Angel Tech songs. How many in the key of D? None. That's how many. Padlocks. That's why. Padlocks.

On top of everything else, the room would often revert to its ancient role as a storage space for piles of drab stacking chairs. It would do this randomly and without notice. So, in brief, the problem with this space? It was so terrible and unpleasant that instead of writing anything, we spent most of the time in the student bar downstairs; the irony being that the student bar was similarly terrible and unpleasant.

Number Three: The Oil-filled Basement

Next we moved to a space in what used to be a picture framing factory in Easton. We were directly next to rooms that had at one time housed several huge cans of oil used to heat the building, and the odour impregnated every last part of the studio. As a result we would emerge from rehearsals smelling like the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989. Bored conservationists would scramble down the street after us, offering to "wash it off."

Our basement room had a very low ceiling with all sorts of interesting hanging pipes ideal for an average sized person to smash their unprotected forehead upon. For a while, Doug (obviously pining for the lighting rig that accompanied our first space) imported various domestic lamps and gizmos in order to try and improve the ambience of our white-washed-breeze-blocked bunker. But the lack of "pinspots" with "gels" or "a decent fucking fresnel with a motorised gobo," or even some sort of "crappy little lighting board I could use to get some smooth fades going" seemed unlikely in a room where just switching on a lava lamp would blow the arse off your fuse. Conclusion? You can't relax in a place where you're scared to light up in case it sparks off residual petrochemicals in your own hair.

Number Four: Thorndale

Another basement, this time beneath an electronics repair shop in Clifton. For those who don't know Bristol, the Clifton district is populated almost exclusively by Trustafarians, Lawyers and TV Producers. It's extremely affluent. Should Clifton ever get hit by a rogue asteroid the number of "Tristams" in Great Britain will be immediately reduced by 68%.

With record company money, we had a dream of setting up a joint studio and office space. It was the dream of geeks and saddos, but it was our dream, and we wanted that dream made flesh. The basement had been designed as a control room and live area, complete with a large glass window and heavy door in between. The idea was that we would put our computers, faxes and film equipment into the control room and set up a lah-dee-dah integrated music studio in the adjoining space. For about 10 days it felt equally decadent and productive. But what ultimately happened is that we spent most our time in the office, on the phone to our manager and record label, staring resentfully through the glass at our unused instruments. We felt like bored kids at a musical zoo, looking into a dingy reptile house run by Future Music readers. We should have put little placards on the window with handy guides to the inhabitants: "What am I? I am a MIDI Cable. I only come out at night. I average one to two metres in length. I am not poisonous. I have 16 seperate channels and can eat a goat whole."

Number Five: West Street

Our next move was facilitated by a kind member of Bristol bands Gagarin and Dalmaine, and produced our first regular rehearsal space with natural light, above a car repair shop. As such Doug's lighting designer role fell by the wayside, and he was only occasionally to be found wistfully redirecting an anglepoise lamp. He also managed to refrain from describing the sunset as a "Master Fade" on all but two non-consecutive occasions.

The move made sense in that at the weekends Bedminster offers few distractions, unless you're interested in buying some cheap meat. The pub over the road was rarely open. Food was only available locally from Iceland, which meant your one option was to place a frozen pizza on top of Neil's valve amp and wait for a few hours until you could safely pierce it with a drumstick. In fact, during winter, the place was freezing. On one occasion Neil went to the toilet and developed what can only be described as an "instant icicle." Its disconnection was a complicated procedure (as, obviously, we weren't going to touch it) involving some old bass strings, a bin liner and 2 allen keys (one of which was permanently lost during the operation. Neil sets off airport metal detectors to this day.)

Our conclusion was that what we really needed was somewhere completely removed from civilisation, but warm. It would be out in unmapped territory, far from anything that could be described as culturally diverting and potentially distract us from music-making; barren, lifeless, remote. Doug did a big ol' search, looking for rehearsal studios in the Gobi Desert, but came a close second when he found somewhere in Fishponds.

Number Six: The Factory.

There ought to be a local competition to find anything of interest to do in Fishponds. The prize? You get to move out of Fishponds. You want to know how boring Fishponds is? There isn't even a fishpond.

As we were waiting to load our gear in last night I took a quick look at the mailboxes for all the businesses that had moved into this converted factory we were in... minicab firms, double-glazing specialists, and of course, Graphic Design Companies. It doesn't matter how far away from intelligent life you get, there will inevitably be a graphic design company nearby. There are motorway service stations in Poland that won't even sell you fucking Petrol, but will have a small office willing to do a quick run of laminate A5s for your drum'n'bass night with a cool blurred font and some grainy image of a Ford Capri driving past a streetlamp.

Anyway. It didn't matter, cos the rehearsal rooms were cosy, comfortable and decently equipped, and they were willing to store our gear there. The drums sounded good. The PA was up to the job of having angel tech bloops, blops, skreeks and thzzwpps thrown at it. The only downside came with the late arrival of the owners. It wasn't so much the fact that they were 40 minutes late, but their given reason for it: they'd been picking up a pool table.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


I spent a good seven hours yesterday trying to lay various low-frequency drum patterns on untitled pop song to no avail.

what do the drums do?
what could the drums do?
what don't i want the drums to do?
why are the drums so boring?
are they always boring?
do i imagine drums at all on this song?
do i ever imagine drums on any song?
do i just add drums out of habit?
do people like drums on pop songs?
do people expect drums on pop songs?
were drums not present, would people miss them?
would there be a petition?
would there be union trouble?
do drums have to be there all the time?
could the drums have a short holiday, then come back?
what if the drums were later than expected?
do the drums sound like they're enjoying themselves?
who are we to judge the drums?
what would change the drums (apart from having no drums)?
will the drums ever sound like a part of the song now?
have they seemed distant lately?
has the drums' time passed, like a fleeting glimpse, a fancy, a wink lost on the breeze?
what is this, anyway?
shouldn't you be better at going with your gut instinct by now?
fucking loser.

So, yeah, what of it? I'm having a problem with drums. I'll admit it. I've been taking my kit to pieces and re-welding it into unsual and physically dangerous arrangements, because my god, I'm so bored of the drummy thing. You can construct the most gorgeous set of interlocking textures, shifting chord patterns and biting melodies, and then you slap a drum kit on and suddenly it's all

- snare
- snare
- snare
- diddly diddly
- snare

Dull, dull, dull, (cymbal crash) dull.

I'm more interested these days in drum parts that sound like background interference. Odd hits, rumbles, scrapes, at unpredictable volumes, now and then. This would all be well and good if it weren't an extremely introverted and selfish tactic: you end up with a pleasant enough song marred by what seems to be the soundtrack to an episode of DIY SOS underneath it.

It helps that Neil and Doug are so good at programming interesting, fluid electronic rhythms. I saw a local band called "A Lion" last week and they were a prime example of using a drum machine to good effect, in that they did it with no shame whatsoever, not attempting to emulate a real drummer, not hiding the machine's inadequacies. "Hear that snare? Sounds awful, doesn't it, but slam these two guitars on top, sounds reet smart. Wait a minute, wait a minute... it's about to do something massively over-programmed and mental... here we go... WAHAAAAY!" Afterwards, a few of my friends were saying that they would be interested in hearing the band with a real drummer. I was against it, in no uncertain terms. I thought it would remove a particular slice of their magic.

So we've begun to try and merge the electronic and the live drums more completely, with varying degrees of success: Some of the more complicated off-kilter patterns are difficult for me to keep up with because I'm not the best drummer in the world (to put it mildly. Ask me to do a paradiddle, I dunno what it is. Go on. Ask me. Ask me now. A what? No fucking idea, mate. See? Not a clue. Complete waste of time.) In the end, it's more likely that I'll "complement" the percussive arrangement. Like a bread basket. Or a side order of onion rings.