Cyclobe, Myrninerest, and Derek Jarman Films at Meltdown 2012

Artwork by Geoff Cox-Doree

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 04 August 2012.

One of the highlights of the Meltdown 2012 series curated by Antony Hegarty, this was an evening of “Hallucinatory Queer British Paganism” bringing together two groups with strong links to the cult British band Coil: First Myrninerest, a new vehicle for David Michael, aka David Tibet of Current 93, and then Cyclobe, in only their second performance since founders Stephen Thrower and Ossian Brown, both ex Coil, first got together in 1999.

The evening began with the screening of a bucolic early (1971) super-8 short by Derek JarmanJourney to Avebury: verite images of downland tracks, fields, and grazing livestock accompanied by a pre-recorded soundtrack by Myrninerest, as a prelude to their performance.

Tibet and his key collaborator, the guitarist James Blackshaw, were joined for the debut of music from the Myrninerest album “Jhonn”, Uttered Babylon, by Current 93 violinist Aloma Ruiz Boada, Andrew Liles on electronics, and Bobbie Watson of Comus on harmonium.

“Jhonn” is a reaction to the passing of Tibet’s close friend, Jhonn Balance of Coil, who died intoxicated in 2004, after falling from a balcony. It is a densely wordy, sometimes elliptical but vivid meditation on love and loss, and an expression of intensely personal gnosis, Tibet’s lyrics rich in vivid imagery and charged with deep, undaunted emotion.

The recorded version is supremely subtle, with only Blackshaw’s deft classical guitar picking or occasional harmonium accompaniment to embroider Tibet’s narrative nostalgia. In live performance, the harmonium provided an almost constant animating pulse while Boada’s violin emphasised the work’s implicitly elegiac tone. Lile’s work was often subtle, insinuating tonal drones or heightening emphases with ambient coloration.

Tibet was obviously nervy but totally focused and apparently sober (unlike the last time I saw him with Current 93, where he was clearly sozzled, as in ‘tired’ and emotional, which was strangely touching and made us love him even more), fully inhabiting his lyrics and conveying their emotional meaning with dramatic emphases and hypnotic intensity.

An accompanying film by Davide Pepe overlaid laid text from intimate correspondence between Tibet and Balance onto images of artworks that Balance had created and dedicated and bequeathed to Tibet.

Three further Derek Jarman short films – the “alchemical dream pieces” SulphurTarot, and Garden of Luxor from 1972/3 – were screened between two intervals (which, incidentally, coincided nicely with three of that day’s Olympic gold medal victories for Team GB). These films, which all had soundtracks recorded by Cyclobe, all eavesdropped on occult playacting, and were much darker in tone than Journey to Avebury. Cyclobe’s soundtracks enhanced the visuals with professionally textured dystopian ambience.

Cyclobe’s founders Thrower and Brown were both members of Johnn Balance’s band Coil. Thrower was a founder member, but went on to write about film. He appeared in several of Derek Jarman’s works. Brown joined Coil some years after Thrower’s departure, and remained for the five years preceding Balance’s death. This was their first UK concert as Cyclobe, and only the second overall.

For the live set, Thrower’s guitar and electronics and Brown’s duduk and hurdy gurdy were augmented by Michael J York’s tulum (Anatolian bagpipe) and border pipes, Ivan Pavlov’s laptop, Cliff Stapleton’s hurdy gurdy, and Dave Smith’s subtle but texturally vital percussion.

Performing music from their latest album, Wounded Galaxies Tap At The Window to projected films which integrated original Cyclobe imagery, Cyclobe created music with a gritty post-industrial kernel and overt nods to alternative rave cultures; a variegated drone collage with folk sonorities. The ingredients aren’t unfamiliar, but Cyclobe are more musically creative that many other superficially comparable acts, recyclers who cut post-industrial ambience by the yard.

Cyclobe carries the imprint of Psychic TV and Coil in its genetic makeup, but the group’s live sound represents a significant evolution of that tradition. They exploit the hurdy gurdy and bagpipes’ signature textures well in a music that embraces crushing riffs and consecutive beats as well as drone, using the acoustic instrument’s characteristically vivid legato drones to enrich electronics or sound piping melodies. The results are vivid and, although (excepting Antony’s brief vocalse cameo) purely instrumental, richly evocative of post-PTV electronica’s symbiotic relationship with British folk music. Their spirit is animistic and materialist in equal measure, encapsulating the soul of a peculiarly British countercultural inheritance, and making it vital for the future.

The artwork that illustrates this post is from a flyer containing a poem by Geoff Cox-Doree, initial copies of which were inserted into the covers of the 2010 Cyclobe album ‘Wounded Galaxies Tap at the Window’. Other copies were distributed at the 2012 Meltdown concert.

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