Thursday, 4 March 2010

MARTIAL CANTEREL - Windscreen + Occupy These Terms / XENO AND OAKLANDER - Blue Flower + Saracen live at Wierd New York

Sean McBride/Martial Canterel live at Wierd

Riding the crest of the minimal wave... One of the most exciting electro labels in the world right now is New York's Wierd Records. Although it has only a small handful of acts on its roster, polymath artist/DJ Pieter Schoolwerth's brainchild is at the forefront of the new analogue bubblebath, promoting artists who use 'antique' synth sounds instead of digital, and in live performances eschew laptops in favour of spaghetti-wired mixing consoles & outboard FX.
The label's mainstay is Sean McBride, otherwise known as Martial Canterel and one half (with his partner Liz Wendelbo) of Xeno & Oakland er.

The overall Martial Canterel tone is sombre and the mood darkly melancholic; the minimal arrangements and live-in-the-studio recording techniques add to the DIY feel, but make no mistake - this material is considered, arranged and polished. McBride's approach is deceptively simple and very effective: catchy sequencing & arpeggiation; busy white noise generators and old-school drum machine percussion, memorable minor key riffs/breaks and echoing half-spoken, half-sung vox. The whole thing exudes a delightful 1979 throwback DIY ethos, and genuinely sounds like it could have been recorded back in the day by the likes of John Foxx, Chris Carter, Cabaret Voltaire or Vice Versa. It reminds one of ex-DNA member Robin Crutchfield's early 80s Dark Day albums Exterminating Angel and Window, and especially Tommi Stumpff's composition and production on German songstress Silvia's eponymous 1982 album.

Xeno & Oaklander has much the same sonic foundations as MC but the sound is fuller and more mellow with the addition of Wendelbo's lush string and pad chords and silky vocals. How they manage to get so much mileage and variety from essentially the same formula - and to sound so damn FRESH with it - is a thing of wonder, and beauty.

Although McBride & Wendelbo are clearly enamoured of a wide range of late 70s/early 80s EM artists and their sound references a 'Golden age' of electronics, it never appears derivative or plagiaristic. There is a joy in the purity of analogue timbres, both cold and warm, that seeps into the listener and transports them to a delirious hybrid of 'now' and 'then'. For me it recaptures the essence of those first minimal synth discoveries over 30 years ago that so few artists today can get close to, and if that's shameful nostalgia or wilful fancy on my part, I'm flat-out grateful for it.

There is a new Martial Canterel album due this year which is welcome as releases have been minimal: the rare self-issued cassettes Sister Age (2004) and Drilling Backwards (2006); limited issue LPs Confusing Outsides (2005) on Genetic and Austerton (2007) on Xanten; Refuge Underneath LP/CD (2007) on Wierd; Cruelty Frames Our Age CD-R (2008) on Xanten and the 2007 Tarantulla CD Views Beyond the City Wall, shared between MC and Silent Signals.

X & O live are a study in just getting on with things. Liz swings, sways and bops, losing herself in her vox and then adding crucial keyboard lines. Sean is an intriguing performer: a tall, gangly frame topped by an angular head. Oddly unhip smart casual attire, a touch rumpled at the edges. A one-man hive of activity, fiddling constantly with his synth & mixer settings and controlling most live sound elements. Instead of using a stand he just tucks the mic into a back pocket or under his arm. A cigarette is often clenched between his fingers. He seems happy to play in the tiny, cramped Wierd space with the audience only inches away. They are both is focused and sincere, and refreshingly free from pretension. No electronic act has had a more immediate impact on me for a long time and I hope to get to New York sometime to attend Schoolwerth's regular DJ/live Wednesday club nights at Wierd HQ, and of course catch MC and/or X & O...

Xeno & Oaklander have released two albums to date: Vigils (2006) on Xanten, and 2009's Sentinelle on Wierd.
The sound is more mellow and less minimal, but will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with Martial Canterel. All of these albums are required listening and are out there in the blogosphere but no download links from me - please help the artists and the label by ordering direct from Wierd Records. This kind of music has long been marginalised by a mainstream industry and audience seemingly allergic to cerebral electronica outside a very narrow bandwidth, and needs all the support it can get to stay alive.

Right, to the tracks/videos then. All are live recordings from performances at Wierd. The first two are from Martial Canterel: Windscreen, November 12 2008, and Occupy These Terms, August 19 2009 (uploaded in 1080p HD resolution). The last two are by Xeno & Oaklander: Blue Flower, October 28 2008, and Saracen, March 18 2009. These are among the most precious things I've heard for many a long day; Blue Flower especially is a soaring joy. This is live electronica as it should be delivered: with heart, skill, passion and intelligence.

Stop press: Xeno and Oaklander are playing a few British dates in April so I'll get to catch them sooner than I thought and I can't bloody wait: Brighton Cowley Club on April 14th, Nottingham Spanky Van Dykes on the 19th and hopefully Brixton Windmill on the 20th.


  1. Where is the link to download? WTF?

  2. (a) You might try reading the text, especially the part where I wrote ' download links from me - please help the artists and the label by ordering direct from Wierd Records.'
    (b) Type 'Martial Canterel blogspot' or 'Xeno & Oaklander blogspot' into google and you'll easily find download links for just about everything they've done.