End of the Alphabet Records: Updates and Favourites
In September 2014, New Zealand-based End of the Alphabet Records issued their first digital and tape release, NoFi Rainbow Vol.1. That compilation featured tracks from up-and-coming noise and drone artists alongside well-known members of New Zealand’s avant-garde music community, such as Antony Milton, Campbell Kneale, Bruce Russell, and End of the Alphabet Records’ founder, Noel Meek. NoFi Rainbow Vol.1 was welcomingly received both at home and abroad, and since its release, the label has gone on to issue plenty more recordings filled with demented electronics, interstellar drones, artful audioscapes, and myriad strains of harsh and more humane noise.
Many of End of the Alphabet Records’ releases have been mentioned on respected websites like The Quietus, and they’ve also been praised in pages of the bible of alternative music, The Wire. However, more importantly, what all the label’s releases have done so far is really establish a signature sense of audio adventurism.
Normally, I’d simply describe that adventurous accent or ethos as being experimental in nature. Experimental obviously being a term that’s widely used to frame unconventional or nonconformist music that’s often tricky to categorise. However, earlier this year, when I spoke to Noel Meek and Antony Milton for a Radio New Zealand feature on End of the Alphabet Records, they suggested that experimental really wasn’t the best term to describe what many artists are doing out there on the musical fringes.
That’s a fair point too. Because, while a bunch of musicians out there have their minds firmly fixed on testing, observing, and recording, just as many artists have very definite visions of exactly the kind of music that they want to make and hear. There’s nothing experimental about their pursuits, no matter if the resulting music is markedly eccentric. But that does raise the question of how best to describe the kinds of music that End of the Alphabet Records release.
UK author Simon Reynolds provides a good answer in his 1990 book, Blissed Out: The Raptures of Rock. I’ve used his idea of what noise music is before, and it certainly can be extrapolated out to encompass what would otherwise be called experimental music. Reynolds’ basic premise is that music is a language, a form of communication, and that noise music is best defined as interference, something that, “jams the code”. I think that description perfectly fits the kinds of music that End of the Alphabet Records release. It certainly describes the wonderful chaos found on the last of the label’s releases I covered here at Six Noises: Pekak! Indonesian Noise 1995–2015: 20 Years of Experimental Music from Indonesia.
I hear a lot of jamming of the code on End of the Alphabet Records releases. I hear artists reshaping (or simply trampling all over) the limits, form and meaning of communication. Sometimes that involves disassembling the language of music by stripping things back and focusing on the grain and appearance of a few core scripts and syllables. (See Yan Jun’s ultra-minimalist Microfeedback Lausanne release for End of the Alphabet Records.) Other times it involves the complete obliteration of the language of music, where an altogether more destructive dialogue is delivered via gloriously strident and ear-splitting transmissions. (See the improvised slab of “free freak noise” found on FANZ’s Live at the Pyramid Club release.)
The point being, in little over a year End of the Alphabet Records has put itself firmly on the map as a label releasing some of the finest unconventional music around––whether that’s harsh, bizarre or offbeat recordings, or some combination thereof. So, in honour of what has been a hugely successful year for the label, and what’s been an absolute boon for fans of outré noise, I thought I’d round up a few of my favourite End of the Alphabet Records releases from the past 15 months.
Obviously, keep an eye out for more releases from the label in 2016. Including what looks to be a phenomenal run of split 7” lathe-cut releases featuring the likes of Wolf Eyes, Lasse Marhaug, Alexander Tucker, Daniel O’Sullivan and a host of local New Zealand artists. In the meantime, here are some of the label’s releases that I rank as real gems.
NoFi Rainbow Vol.2
Fingers crossed that End of the Alphabet Records keep the compilations coming. NoFi Rainbow Vol.1 was a superb opening foray––rightly applauded by critics and fans the world over. And the recent Pekak! Indonesian Noise 1995–2015: 20 Years of Experimental Music compilation wasn’t just a fascinating survey of music. It was also a wonderful example of how the influence of time, geography, and culture change the shapes and sounds of music.
Certainly, End of the Alphabet Records’ latest release, NoFi Rainbow Vol.2, is an enthralling snapshot of the contemporary culture and sounds of New Zealand’s underground artists. It kicks off with unhinged electronics on Yeongrak’s “Absorb Some Weapons”. It features mind-buckling tracks like Witcyst’s “Stoners Lager Cover” and Noel Meek’s “My Year of Living Normcore”. It provides some beauty and lift with Eye’s “Refracting Mirror” and Mouth Erect’s “Voyage”. And it ends on the celestial/ambient majesty of Voronoi’s “Approaching the Red Planet”.
There’s more great tracks on NoFi Rainbow Vol.2, and the compilation is an excellent opportunity to take a peek at the freakish concoctions being brewed in the weirdest corners of New Zealand’s musical underground. The album is well worth picking up, and take note that End of the Alphabet Records has a roster-wide, discounted sale on at present. So you can purchase all of the label’s releases for a very reasonable price.
Noel Meek: Living in the Time of the Golden Circle
Some of the prime and often entirely legitimate criticisms of music deemed to be experimental are that it’s kind of pretentious, elitist even, and really not that much fun. Well, just to be clear, the debut full-length solo album from End of the Alphabet Records’ founder Noel Meek isn’t flippant or silly in any way. But it is a hell of a lot of fun to explore.
From the bizarrely twisted harpsichord on album opener “Spinning in the Sand”, right on through to the time-warping movements of album closer “Electric Jerusalem”, Living in the Time of the Golden Circle features as much bliss as head-scratching hiss. Meek roughs up heavenly sections with a little sonic Hell. And a track like “Save Petrol, Burn Cars” traverses every one of those aforementioned features in nine minutes of lo-fi, contorting insanity––with buried percussion crashing, and ear-worm frequencies eating into your brain.
It’s mesmerising stuff, as is the album’s other similarly unnerving and entrancing lengthy track, the organ-heavy “Maps of Maps”. Most of all, as mentioned, it’s all a great deal of fun. It’s simply a joy to dive into because it’s a sumptuous feast of sounds and textures that are weird and most assuredly warped. (Also, take note that Meek has also started his own Bandcamp page, should you find his madcap musical exploits appealing.)
Antony Milton: There Are Other Possibilities
It’s difficult to sum up Antony Milton’s status in the experimental (yes, I use the word very tentatively) music community. Milton is a prolific sound artist, widely respected in New Zealand and around the globe, and he’s been working under various noms de plume since the early 1990s. Milton is also the founder and curator of the fascinating label, Pseudoarcana, and I first encountered his work via his Mrtyu moniker: specifically, Mrtyu’s ten-tonne drone/noise compilation, Blood Tantra (Rituels De Sang Du Culte De Tantra), which was released by highly regarded metal label, 20 Buck Spin.
Milton has generally just ignored any rules or templates in regard to any genre specifics. He’s made music that’s been both hideously grotesque and utterly beautiful. Both brain-battering and wholly transcendental. And both melodious and malodorous. You get the point.
In many ways, it’s fitting that End of the Alphabet Records’ first full album release was Milton’s There Are Other Possibilities. He’s a humble artist who has offered Noel Meek help and advice along the way, and that kind of back-and-forth support is what keeps New Zealand’s underground music communities alive and thriving.
What’s also interesting is that There Are Other Possibilities contains some of Milton’s more immediately accessible work. That’s not to suggest that his explorations of density and space on the album are somehow more lightweight. They’re really not. The album travels over some fairly rugged terrain. And there are plenty of deep ’n’ dark wall-of-noise keyboards and guitars that’ll prove very appealing to fans of heavyweight psychedelic noise and drone metal alike.
However, what you’ll also encounter are moments of pure sunlit ecstasy––albeit still filtered through a dirty window. Songs twist and turn, lurching from gloomy to scintillating, and the 14-minute title track and album closer, “There Are Other Possibilities”, is a magnificent feat worth purchasing the album for alone. It delivers a mammoth wave of all-consuming noise from the great beyond to end the album on. And it’s a colossal coda to a release that is unquestionably one of Milton’s finest yet.
MIR: In the Dust of this Planet
I’m somewhat obsessed with MIR’s In the Dust of this Planet, and it’s my favourite release from End of the Alphabet Records’ roster so far. Admittedly, I am a dark ambient nerd, so I’m predisposed to liking it already. But I think obsessing about the album is really the only appropriate response you can have. It’s so imbued with mystery, so framed by its bleak aura, and so utterly fathomless.
MIR note that In the Dust of this Planet features, “Xeno-electronic emissions woven from a blackened blend of technoid deconstructions, harsh noise, post-industrial electronics, and dark alien dronescapes”. And there’s really nothing more I can add to expand on that.
The album sits, for all intents and purposes, clearly and squarely in the dark ambient and drone camp. However, it’s so much more than any mere assemblage of ambient electronics, even if all those electronics do happen to be pretty damn mesmerising.
Much like the works of fellow multimedia artist Thomas Köner, MIR have ensured that In Dust of this Planet perfectly reflects the environment in which it was created. In this case, it was “the darkest reaches of the south of New Zealand”. And there is an aptly isolated and solitary feel to all of the tracks. Additionally, there’s a sense of almost post-human barrenness that links to that isolation. A sense that MIR’s drones are framing the memories, or perhaps marking the presence, of a society now reduced to ruin.
There’s a haunting and entrancing fragility to In Dust of this Planet, where the sounds therein are at their most diaphanous, and flashes of light peek through the clouds overhead. However, what possesses me so utterly are the shadowy and desolate chasms that the light exposes, and how the album then explores those depths.