Jack Ellister- Lichtpyramide 2 Q&A (2021 Tonzonen Records)

Jack Ellister is a UK based musician who started out creating heavy early Pink Floyd inspired psych rock, but has turned to more experimental and contemplative audio explorations on his recent album Lichtpyramide (2020, Tonzonen Records). Now he is back with a second part of those kosmische kraut explorations, also released on German krautrock cult label Tonzonen.

What we hear here is some high quality synthesizer based experimentalism, ranging from the early German kraut wizards to Kraftwerk to even some more modern Radiohead-type beat mongering. It is altogether a rather introvert affair, forward moving, but quietly, like an astronaut slowly finding its way in zero gravity. It made me curious about the man behind these sounds. Luckily I found him willing to talk to Weirdo Shrine!

Jack Ellister

How have you been? How has life been as a musician in lockdown and afterwards?
Thanks, I’m fine. Life is good. I think my situation wasn’t very different than that of other musicians in Western Europe. Spending time at home, trying to do something useful. I’m glad we’re moving back to normal. Yesterday I went to a packed concert. I’m glad this is possible now, although at first it felt a little bit awkward to be sweating among people again.

Can you tell me your story? You are London-based, but you are from somewhere else, right? How did you end up making music in the UK?
I started making this type of music in the Netherlands. The conservatory in Arnhem has an amazing collection of classical percussion instruments in the cellar. Few people ever go there. Once discovered, I found it really inspiring. I would often be there to try the various, often home-made, instruments and record weird sounds. For shows with the psychedelic band that I had at that time I used to borrow metallophones, tubular bell sets and other sonic excitements from the classical department until they decided that it had to stop. They needed those instruments for their own students they said. I kept borrowing gongs for the performances and I bought myself a tubular bells set from a local orchestra. A pity I couldn’t take it to London when we moved here in 2014. It’s still standing in the woods near Apeldoorn in a shed that belongs to my mother-in-law.

In what way has your personal background played a role in the way your music sounds today?
Having lived in different countries for several years and knowing each culture a bit can help in becoming more open minded in general. Also there was a Denazifizierungsprogramm in Germany after WW2. In the 70s and 80s you had socially aware, slightly leftist children’s programs on TV that had a high educational value. I wouldn’t say TV promoted socialism as such, the establishment there was just as conservative as other countries in the West, but it definitely had those bits where other countries and cultures were portrayed from a non-imperialistic, equal point of view. In public libraries in Stuttgart I would find films by Werner Herzog, which led to listening to Popol Vuh and other kosmische music. The concept of a cosmic music would indicate an absence of national identification. I think it’s okay if people are proud of their origins, as long as it’s not for establishing a hierarchy. At the same time it’s easy to see how uniform mass culture often is. It’s important to at least try and offer an alternative.

Where did you pick up your fascination with psychedelic music? Who or what has been your greatest influence in that respect?
I was eight years old and borrowed the blue Beatles compilation album (1967-1970) on cassette from the local library. Discovering mid era Beatles as a young kid just defines your taste for a huge part. Next thing was Piper At The Gates Of Dawn when I was 9. An uncle bought me the cassette in Poland and Astronomy Domine blew my mind. Other 60s/70s bands followed but the craving for good acid rock clearly dominated.

Your earlier work was much more band-based and guitar oriented, how did it transform to its current form and will your sound ever return to more song based guitar structures with singing vocals?
It started as experiments. And because they lend themselves to unpressured free-wheeling they tend to be more fun to do. Combined with shifting listening habits it felt like the right thing to explore. Still feels that way, but I’ve noticed I try to find combinations nowadays that might work as an arrangement. Like parts in a song. Ideally when I complete the circle and be back to writing melodic songs, I’ll have an extended sound palette and a unique sonic signature to draw on.

Can you tell why you have moved your music from Fruits De Mer records to Tonzonen in Germany?
It’s not moved. I continue to work with both labels. Because the first Lichtpyramide album had a lot of German lyrics, I felt it would be a good idea to reach a German speaking audience.

Can you tell about your collaboration with Dave Schmidt aka Sula Bassana? How did that come about?
I incidentally met Dave when he was playing a secret show with Electric Moon in a small London venue, prior to a their main gig the next day in a way bigger place. For the first half hour of chatting we didn’t know who the other was. Of course at some point we realized. It was funny. We knew each others music so obviously we stayed in touch.
I like collaborations in general.  So during lockdown I showed Dave some of my new material, and asked whether he wanted to contribute any sounds. He chose the ones he felt that would make most sense to add something.

Do you listen to contemporary music these days? Anything to recommend? What are you mostly listening to anyways when you are not making music?

I listen to Beethoven symphonies on repeat lately, but apart from that I like Prince Rama’s Shadow Temple and Architecture Of Utopia albums a lot. London based bands Soccer 96, Vanishing Twin and Snapped Ankles just released great albums. Russian duo Simple Symmetry have made a very interesting album recently, that I’m very impressed by, and I like their leftfield techno productions too. Gerald Donald’s Der Zyklus EPs are great. Klaus Schultze made some fantastic music, I especially like his Clara Mondschein album.

What are your future plans immediate and long term?
Immediate is actually releasing Lichtpyramide II and starting to play shows.
I’ll soon start compiling the third Lichtpyramide record and will see if I can get it a bit of song structure here and there to provide potential pattern recognition for the workoholics among our little grey cells.

What should our readers do immediately after this interview?
Same as me: The laundry and then go to see a live show.

Juju- La Que Sabe review + Q&A (2021 Weird Beard Records)

Putting on a new JuJu album and closing your eyes always lands you in a place you could not expect before. Coming from the African vibes of the highly respected self-titled debut album on Fuzz Club records on which Sicilian native Gioele Valenti collaborated with members of Swedish cult psych outfit GOAT, the band and its albums have never sounded the same since. Each album turned a different corner and explored different angles but always kept their dark and brooding atmosphere and psychedelic overtones.

La Que Sabe, JuJu’s fourth studio album takes us deep into 80s wave territory this time. Closing my eyes I walk dark and sweaty alleyways and in and out batcave discos where bands like Bauhaus, Anne Clark, Sisters Of Mercy and Echo And The Bunnymen entertain the black clad audiences. It’s sexy, danceable music and quite a departure from the dark ritualistic psych chants of the early JuJu days. What is left is the repetition in the pounding beats, and the overall hazy atmosphere. JuJu is back in a more celebratory mood this time and wants its listeners to go out and sweat blood.

But behold! There is more to La Que Sabe than meets the eye, apart from an excellently executed tribute to the dark ages of gothic new wave it tells a very relevant story about our society’s current state of affairs and its dystopian destination. There can’t hardly be a better soundtrack than this for these times. I had to see if I could find JuJu mastermind Goeile Valenti willing to talk to the Shrine, but luckily he did! I am pretty darn proud of the interview below so please treat yourself and check it out below:

JuJu

Hi Gioele! How are you, and how have you been these strange two years of the pandemic?
Nice too meet you man. I am fine thanks. I passed them between incredulity and amazement. The world has always lived with pandemics. But this time they are turning the world upside down. I spent a lot of it writing, composing and playing, as always. But also to
have fun with my friends. A life worth living must be a life of sharing. We also recently played at Fekete Zaj in Hungary. Well, after two years of enforced detention, it was like touching the sky with a finger.

Also: where have you been? And how has your geographical position influenced your work? In my view, Sicily must be awesome to live, yet it is also extremely far away from everything else…
Sicily is a place geographically and psychologically in its own right. Here cultural differences have always crossed and you cannot find something similar elsewhere, I guess. Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish… a crossroads of different cultures. I can’t say that I was
musically formed from Sicily, because I grew up listening to punk, new wave, postrock, shoegaze, psychedelia… but surely this tendency to mix everything together, forming a kind of melange in baroque sauce, well, this definitely comes from my origins. Sicily has the reputation of being a place of sun and sea. But the Mediterranean has a double soul, one solar, we would say Apollonian, but also a tragic face, which follows us like a shadow, and comes from a Dionysian and dramatic environment, directly from Ancient Greece. JuJu comes from there, I fear.

Can you tell our reader the background story of JuJu? What was it at its conception, and what has it become now?
I started JuJu while playing in another band, Lay Llamas (Rocket Recordings). A band that I am still a part of and that is about to come out with two new records.Then I felt myself developing some topoi connected with African culture, polyrhythm and connection with
mother earth, the magic of the soil. In fact in the first two records of JUJU (Fuzz Club) you can hear this Africanist inspiration. The third album, “Maps And Territory” instead entangled with new wave, glam rock and industrial music. With a hint of avant-garde jazz in it, I
presume. One of the biggest influences I ever acquired it, it was during two support tours for the Swedish masked ensemble GOAT. In fact, a couple of founders (Capra Informis and Goatman) played on my first albums. I like to imagine JuJu as an organism in constant motion. Only chaos generates dancing stars, you know.

With La Que Sabe you have once again reinvented yourself into something else completely, can you describe the writing process and what influenced your sound to turn into this?
Sure. I always wanted to pay homage to the music I grew up with. From dark wave to new wave, from post punk to no wave to art rock. I believe that La Que Sabe embodies all this, passed through my interest in the Vedanta culture, where spirituality is articulated
through the experience, even extreme and vital, of the path of the left hand. In this historical moment it is good to connect with the deeper parts of the cosmic self. Only in this way will we be able to escape the exploitation that politics is implementing on the basis of a
perennial emergency government. In short, try not to go crazy and being alive.

To my ears, La Que Sabe sounds darker, and perhaps more 80s inspired than ever…would you agree? Are there perhaps certain artists you listened
to more to inspire you?

You hit the mark perfectly. The stylistic code of La Que Sabe is precisely that between 80 and 90. From Joy Division, Dead Can Dance and The Cult to Pere Ubu and Jesus And Mary Chain, The Telescopes, Barbie Bones up to Depeche Mode and New Order ending with lapping territories near Swans and Sonic Youth, just to name a few, this record has the ambition to articulate itself through two decades of vital and politically incorrect music.

Can you explain the title and the overall lyrical concept?
Sure. It’s a powerful archetype that resides in the deepest psyche of our soul, of every woman’s soul, specifically, it is in fact a feminine archetype. It is the wild, ancient essence that belongs to us, that we deserve, that is ours by right. Society wants people to be wheels of a functionalist machine. Society wants endless production and tame people. The duty of every human being is to rebel against this capitalist reductionism. The KAPALIKA, the man portrayed on the cover, is an Indian holy man, a practitioner of Shaivism. Shaivism is considered the oldest spiritual path in the world. Society wants divided beings, but if you are connected to yourself, no one will be able to divert you. The lyrics speak of destruction and regeneration, of disappointment, of being a light to oneself, against the false heroes and weak myths of which even Rock’N’Roll is made.

The first self-titled album has become quite a classic in my book. I was excited to recently buy it on vinyl! Can you recall the responses of its release at the time? And have the responses to that album and JuJu as a band changed over time?
The debut of JuJu, initially released on the US label Sunrise Ocean Bender and then reissued for Europe by Fuzz Club, was immediately received enthusiastically. In that record I was talking about people who in 2000 still die at sea while politicians pass the ball, literally making a career out of the lives of refugees. A very nihilistic record. JuJu immediately earned the affection of many fans, especially British ones. This affection and loyalty have grown over time, cemented by a great live activity. We can say that we have a lot of
friends who are willing to go on long trips to one of our concerts. Of course, I always ask for a lot of trust from the fans, even jumping into the dark, as I consider myself a game changer, and I love that each record sounds different. I don’t like bands that don’t mark an artistic evolution from one record to another. They bore me.

You have other projects as well, right? Are they still alive and can we expect new music in the future?
Yes, I have another dark folk project called Herself, on whose last record I hosted Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev. I am about to complete the recording of the sixth official album and I hope to be able to release it soon.

Speaking about future plans: what are your plans with JuJu in the immediate future? And can we expect some live action any time soon too?
We’re trying to organize a tour on next Spring. Not easy, these days. People are very afraid in planning something. We’ll see.

What should our readers do directly after reading this interview?
I can’t really say. Maybe hug your partner and tell him/her he/she’s precious?

Thanks for your time Jasper, it’s been a pleasure.
We Are You
Gioele Valenti/JuJu

Gioele Valenti

Smote- Drommon (2021 Rocket Recordings)

Take a look at the carvings on the totem that eyes you in the face on the new Smote album Drommon. What is a drommon you say? Well, can’t you see it when it hits you in the face like a smote?! Now take a look at this totem overhere and realize that this is a drommon; it is a piece of ritualistic, savage, unrestrained art, and Smote have just created a perfect soundtrack for it.

The album consists of four pieces: the lengthy droners Drommon parts 1 and 2, and two shorter songs Hauberk and Poleyn squeezed in the middle. It is probably best to just take your daily dose of Drommon as a whole though, because it works best as a forty minute meditative mindfulness journey.

All along the trip the mind wanders through distant lands, sweaty jungle swamps, and dark rituals around blazing camp fires, but never through Newcastle or Northern England. And yet that’s where these master cinematic repetitioners stem from. It is a testament to their ever expanding imagination that their take on instrumental music offers such wild and exotic images nevertheless. Makes you in part want to be witness to a live ritual, and in another part to stay far away from it to keep on visualizing these sounds in your own mind. Like reading a good book and being harrowed by the idea of distortion in the movie version.

So onwards reader, don’t let my mental images taint yours while listening to Smote’s excellent instrumental mind movie. Go forth and create one of your own.

Telephone Exchange- Télegrafos de México (2021 Up In Her Room Records)

Telephone Exchange from Mexico are definitely one of the weirder ducks in our proverbial pond. I reckoned I had them pinned down quite well when they released their first sign of life a while ago (previewed exclusively on this blog), but a quick listen through Telegrafos de Mexico proves I had absolutely no idea. The album starts out with “Plagiarism as an Art form” (I loosely translated the Russian letters in the title) and presents us with a bucketload of feedback and a hypnotic but catchy garage pop chant.

Hypnotism and repetition is definitely on the menu in Mexico at this particular time because tracks like Que Irresponsable and ཧཙལར ཕརམའ (hatsalara pharama’a) are both that, while at the same time being nothing alike. At once being noisy and loud, and then suddenly lovely and cartoonish, to being dark and shamanistic, there is just no way to possibly know what will be next, which is a treat of course, and a quality to applaud.

If I had to be forced to provide the reader with a contemporary reference or a peer band it would probably lead somewhere deep into King Gizzard land, be it way noisier (Butthole Surfers-noisy even) and perhaps a tad naive in a cool outlandish way. Their style can be traced back to no wave at times, also in its stubborn quirkiness, with all kinds of detours through other genres. The overall atmosphere is one of psychedelic anxiety though, a violet colored acid trip gone way down into the rabbit hole and perhaps never back out again…

I must say I am really happy to be able to be in contact with the outskirts of the weirdo psych spectrum and pick up on a band like Telephone Exchange. It takes a pretty “different” type of waterhead to take the listener on trips just a tad further around the corner like this. I love that their transmission reached all the way out of Mexico into my room, and I would encourage everybody that feels in any way part of this Weirdo Shrine of mine to pick up this crazy telephone conversation and enjoy the trip!

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