Goodbye, Red Rose: the ides of March

Riko Dan "Hard Food" (Tectonic): Jeff Rushin "Between Minds" (Mary Go Wild): Insolate "Proletarijat 005"(Proletarijat): Code Error "Code Error" (Tandang Records): Nothing Clean / Hooked On Christ split 7" (Samidzat Records / Birmingslam Hardcore): Caesium "Any Questions, Any Answers" (Dreizehn Schallplatten), and more

Welcome back to in love with these times, in spite of these times, the fanzine that prefers the Shirelles to Sheeran, the Ronettes to Ronson and "Skillex" to Skrillex (sorry if we've done that one before, but Kenickie - unlike most of what emerged from 'Britpop' - remain an oft-underrated outfit).

You may wonder why we didn’t post in February given our promise to try and update you on new sounds monthly, but the honest answer is that February proved as barren as our local park. And, as we’re in an N1 state of mind, this month’s pic is the entrance to that park. The estate behind it was designed by Darbourne & Dark, in a ziggurat style that won awards and plaudits before cold reality intervened, but we can’t find trace of the architect or sculptor behind this particular, rather neglected gateway.

Luckily, March brought a springtime rush of excellent music, so let's dive in.

* * * * *

The last time a great Bristol record label reached catalogue number 100, it promptly imploded, breaking hearts right and left and taking out half a page in the NME to celebrate “a day for destroying things”. Pinch’s Tectonic imprint, on the other hand, has wisely decided to eschew stylised self-immolation and elected instead to celebrate the event with an artist EP by a favourite MC of Rob Ellis (and ours), the venerable Riko Dan, announcing his presence in typically winning fashion.

“Here to kill off all bumbaclart fuckery / Like Peter Tosh, me get grumpy… Buss your head like Magnum bubbly”

Looking back in the racks, it seems that our first engagements with Riko, as he was, were his turn on Wiley’s “Ice Rink” white label and his incongruously phoned-in (from prison) verse on Lady Sovereign’s “Random”. At the time, all the talk was of Sov - and of grime – imminently breaking through to the mainstream, regarded rather oddly as a promised land. In the event though, it’s arguable that the grime class ceiling was only broken this year, 13 years on, by Stormzy; whilst Lady Sovereign turned out to be one of many super-promising MCs that ‘rose without trace’. Riko Dan, on the other hand, is still rolling strong: over the years we’ve enjoyed much, including his epic mixtape “The Truth” one decade back, his stint on the riddims on the FWD>>/Rinse “The End” comp (a box set of blazing London MCs and producers caught live in 2007) and - in more recent years - a host of dubstep-collabo pearls on 12”.

On this particular 12”, Riko gets the red carpet treatment from no less than five different producers on five different cuts (plus a remix of 2016’s “Big Slug” to close things out), with productions from Pinch, Joker and Ziro (all from the home team in Bristol) plus London’s Mumdance and Manchester’s Walton. We’d have probably bought any of these as own-right singles, so putting them out on one release really feels like the treat that Mr Ellis no doubt intended. The last time we heard an EP which basically had five A-sides on it was probably when the Orchids released “Penetration” (unfortunately, at the time the aceness of the songs was drowned out by a chorus of disapproval which we will never be able to explain to any millennial because it involved what was then the heresy – really not too strong a word for it back then - of Sarah Records having released a 45 that was twelve inches in diameter).

If we had to pick two from "Hard Food" - a starter and a main, if you like - then we’d probably plump for the title track, which pits the Dan’s cavalier MCing against a zigzagging, playful Joker beat to create one of Riko's catchiest tunes (lyrically, he doesn’t like informers, he doesn’t like Brie); and “Vibration”, which uses a pummelling Pinch rhythm to tell a tale of kissing and holding hands (not really, it’s about informers again).

in love with these times, in spite of these times Riko Dan top 10: Dark Crawler (with Terror Danjah). Ice Rink (with Wiley). Big Slug (with Pinch & Mumdance). Black Dragons (with Rabit). Play Your Corner (with Wen). No Boad Test This Corner (from “The Truth”). Take Time VIP (with Mumdance). Hard Food (with Joker). Chosen One (from “Run The Road”). Pepper Pot (with P Jam).

In contrast to Tectonic and its (dub)plates, Amsterdam’s Mary Go Wild are only up to catalogue number 003, which must make Jeff Rushin their Harvey Williams. “Between Minds” is Mr Rushin’s latest artist EP, and the title track quickly settles into a familiar groove, swapping the icier blasts of last year’s “Wondering” for a hypnotic mix of undulation and modulation. The other real highlight, though, is “New Era” on the flip: this is warmer and fuzzier, like a comfy pub sofa after a short drink too many. It has the feel of A New Line (Related)’s Detroit-via-Yorkshire, President Carter-approved repeto-tech. All in all, a Dutch delight, and on lager bottle-green vinyl.

But the moment we really *knew* that March was a vintage month was when Proletarijat 005 emerged from the postman’s bag. I think we all know by now that Sev Dah’s Proletarijat label is the go-to place for bangin’ contemporary European dancefloor techno which also tenderly marks the exploits and sacrifice of Yugoslav partisans, and this instalment introduces the additional frisson of being an artist EP not by Sev himself, but by Insolate (aka Miss Sunshine), whose grandfather was himself one of those freedom fighters. There’s another thoughtful sleeve insert – the translation reads “Man becomes free with his will, his resistance and non-acceptance” – and the label itself rightly describes the themes of the 12” as particularly apposite in today’s world: "as the black clouds of fascism once again form over Europe we must remember the ordinary men and women who sacrificed everything for the hope of freedom... how infinitely frail this freedom is".

Opener “Mulberry Tree” is bright, dashing and insistent, like the debonair young soldiers pictured on the record sleeve. It’s followed by the more introspective wash of “Sloboda” (“Freedom”) – adroit hypnoteca with buttefly percussion - but the pièce de résistance (with the emphasis on résistance, of course) is “Ponos” (“Pride”): it’s an unashamed dancefloor monster, yet we swear a military marching rhythm briefly intrudes halfway through. Once more from Proletarijat, this is an EP that works brilliantly as both a suite of music and as a testament to those who fought in resistance movements of all kinds. And, frankly, as an inspiration against the rise of the right in Hungary, in Poland, across Europe and in Trump’s America.

Lurching eastwards across the globe, cuddly new combo Code Error are a Singaporean grindcore quartet, but despite what you might be thinking, a full 25% of them have never been in Wormrot, and only 50% of them are currently in Wormrot. Their self-titled debut cassette EP (on Tandang Records of Kuala Lumpur) serves up seven slices of Wormrot-friendly guttural guitar noise, if marginally rawer than their ‘parent’ band’s most recent full-length, “Voices”.

Instead, at times there's something - perhaps in the anger of the prowling, detuned bass lines - that reminds of formidable Finns Rotten Sound (btw, we should be hearing more from them very soon). There are no titles, merely numbers, but after “0” provides an ominous intro roll, highlights include the full-on exocet blasts of “1” (oh, and “3”, and, er “4” and “6”), the mid-period Wormrot wiles of “2” and the ‘reflective’ “5”, which eventually elides its freestyle riffing into half a minute of what sounds like the singer awaking, shouting and drenched in sweat, from some kind of hallucogenic nightmare.

Continuing with the cassingle revival (Lucksmiths earworms always being welcome), the East Midlands' Nothing Clean (file between: Northern Portrait and Notorious B.I.G) have decided to follow a quartet of spiky split 7"s on multifarious labels by switching to cassette for their latest split, this time with the West Midlands' Hooked on Christ (file between: Hoodz Underground and Horowitz). This newest EP is released via the Clean's own Samidzat Records and the Birmingslam Hardcore collective.

Once again, the boys furnish 10 tracks of febrile and fresh short-dose Leicester HC, delivered in a turbulent and tumultuous style that always feels somewhat invigorating: if our usual diet of techno and indie-pop is a warm & nourishing environment, like taking the armchair by the parlour hearth in winter, then listening to NC is like stepping outside into a bracing hailstorm for a bit instead. It takes a few seconds to adapt, but you're outside, and *alive*, and by the end of it you're relishing the impact of every ball of ice. And Hooked On Christ, for their part, may be our favourite of the five 'guest' bands so far on these splits: their 14 tracks of stop-start fire and fury never outstay their welcome, with the slightly longer tunes ("Useful Fools" and "Critic", which both edge past 30 seconds) perhaps the pick.

But the song this year that best captures the political zeitgeist, we think, isn't angry metallic shoutcore, but West Country producer Caesium's "Mrs May", the final tune on his "Any Questions, Any Answers" EP on Berlin's Dreizehn Schallplatten label. Weaving our beloved Prime Minister's infamous "strong and stable" mantra into an increasingly mocking 131 bpm loop, Caesium succeeds in showing just how unhinged and inaccurate that General Election catchphrase proved to be. It may be techno's most forthright political nail on the head since Cindy skinned Farage and Le Pen a few years back.

Which brings us to our next pet subject, exiting the EU. And we are sorry to do this again, not least as it may well induce a coronary in me if I get any crosser about it, and then who's going to slavishly bring you news of the next single by an ex-Sarah band, eh?

But... today marks one year from the day when we will lose our EU citizenship - I'm not a young man, but I've been an EU citizen my whole life - and all because of an internal fissure in the Conservative party, exploited by opportunist politicians and seedy tax-dodging closet racists and cravenly supported by a pitifully suppliant Government which refuses to govern and an 'opposition', emaciated of all principle, that unforgivably refuses to oppose. (And yes, we have finally ripped up the membership card, and not just over Europe: if CLPs really think that that first-class MPs are Tory stooges, just for calling out their own party's feeble responses to antisemitism, then we don't want to subsidise those members, to belong to the same party as them any more. That's the type of narrow, conspiracy theorist response that would once have been confined to the alt-right, and which ignores the bigger picture, a construct of pre-Brexit vintage called common decency).

Maybe time to cheer up the round-up. So rather than leave you in a huff, let's give some serious ilwtt, isott shout-outs to a few more high-in-the-chest-of drawers singles: Sneakbo’s “Fuck It” (low down, uncompromising, obliquely thrilling Brixton posse cut featuring Swavey, Mdargg, J. Boy and Bellzey), Maria Savage’s “Me O Nada” (tenacious barbed-wire Chilean techno on Darknet, with hints of Electorites), Salt Lake Alley's "Deals At The Crossroads" (impending Cloudberry pop thrills on 7" as the Wake meet the Style Council in charming slight-fi), Leeds label 1Forty's v/a "1FGRM002" EP (including majorly sharp, unfiltered grimestep from Filthy Gears, laced by Maxsta and Killa P) and of course The Hit Parade’s “Oh Honey I…” (tender 7” Gunnersbury Park pulp paperback-pop perfection, as you’d expect: “THIS POP MUSIC RECORDING can only be played at 45 Rpm”, blares the sleeve stridently).

Yes. Pop music, we need you - and are grateful for you - more than ever before.