Just a few weeks ago, reviewing the tenth episode in Mordant Music’s (the artist, pictured above) Travelogues series of psychogeographical concrète narratives, I remarked how Mordant Music (the label) was “undoubtedly the finest in the UK.”
Well, FACT decided to call me out on this and it’s nothing but an easy pleasure to explore this further. And when making an assertion as to the strength of a label, we can take it for granted that the sonic content is exemplary but really there should be something beyond that, some kind of identity or philosophy, atmosphere or attitude, acknowledged or otherwise, something that sharpens the edge and captures the imagination beyond this just being a great collection of music…
A great label must have some kind of identity or philosophy, atmosphere or attitude, acknowledged or otherwise, something that sharpens the edge and captures the imagination.
Mordant Music as both label and artist first began to attract attention with 2006’s Dead Air which emerged in the same foggy temporal stew as the then nascent Hauntology “scene” alongside the Ghost Box label (with whom Baron Mordant, real name Ian Hicks, would go on to briefly collaborate with) and Moon Wiring Club. Remarkably individual, Dead Air sounds like a surreal car crash between Saint Etienne and Throbbing Gristle with the warm tones of Phillip Elsmore taking the place of CracknellOrridge. A Proustian madelaine to a particular generation if ever there was one, Elsmore had worked as the voice of Thames TV across the 70s and 80s and his instantly recognisable voice being dropped into this electronic hall of mirrors still plays havoc with your brain. Dead Air’s loose concept of a dead TV station was embellished with a unique design concept (from now ex-MMer Admiral Greyscale) packaged in a triangular fold out wallet that played with 70s iconography (bizarre wallpaper, the Magpie logo and so on).
Dead Air sounds like a surreal car crash between Saint Etienne and Throbbing Gristle with the warm tones of Phillip Elsmore taking the place of CracknellOrridge.
As Mordant Music, Hicks (with Admiral Greyscale) then transmitted a remarkable run of releases via hard and virtual formats including The Tower, Carrion Squared, the aforementioned (and ongoing) Travelogues series and 2009’s magnificent follow-up to Dead Air, SyMptoMs, which found the now-solo Baron embracing a witty, melancholy and powerful electronic pop song form (replete with vocals!). The Tower (in three releases detailing 14 parts and remixes) is a gothic journey that features Sunn 0)))-like guitar interrupted by huge analogue-sounding sequencers. The Travelogues episodes are contemporary musique concrète: download-only abstract pieces whose sounds are sourced from places as disparate as the pier at Southend, Bali, or the interior of a computer. Carrion Squared is a collection of grandiose short-form library sequences — the offcuts of work that MM contributed to a Boosey & Hawkes commission (actually making library music in the real world as opposed to the just referencing it in the Hauntological one).
Baron Mordant is always present but slightly elusive – not so much hidden as just lurking in the shadows.
On paper this might seem possibly dilettantish or overly eclectic but in reality while each of these releases may operate under different rules with different intentions at heart there is a distinctive sonic vein and vibe running clearly throughout. Mordant Music (as artist) favours sometimes huge textures that are subsequently, almost paradoxically, redeployed in a subtle and underplayed fashion – Baron Mordant is always present but slightly elusive – not so much hidden as just lurking in the shadows.
Perhaps the jewel in the artist’s is 2010’s MisinforMation DVD. Commissioned by the BFI, Hicks went about re-scoring a range of 70s and 80s public information films, items that are of course beloved of the Hauntological contingency. In Mordant’s hands, what emerged is funny, poignant and disturbing – sometimes all at once. The footage of teenage glue sniffers in particular remains in the mind long after viewing – a shocking vision of wasted youth and larking about that barrages the viewer with a range of conflicting emotions. The more pastoral moments are equally surprising and of particular brilliance is the gorgeous long-form piece of chunky synth kosmiche that accompanies Peter Greenaway’s beautiful extended tone poem The Sea in Their Blood.
Then on top of this slew of varied trap-doors, there is the Mordant Music label featuring artists such as Cosmic Dennis Greenidge, Vindicatrix, Shackleton (yes, that one), Mr Maxted and Ekoplekz as well as occasional collaborators, remixers and so on. And while these artists couldn’t be more disparate, somehow their presence on Mordant Music makes complete sense.
MisinforMation is funny, poignant and disturbing – sometimes all at once.
Cosmic Dennis Greenidge is one of those artists who gets labelled as ‘outsider’ – which really says more about the restricted imaginations of commentators and the music industry than about the artist himself. Now a sexagenarian, Cosmic Dennis’ raw recordings consist of the warts-and-all manipulation of two cassette players (containing anything and everything from lounge jazz to rockabilly to rave to classical) with Dennis joyously straining at the limits of his own voice to regale with stories about the ‘Invasion of the Beetroot People’ or ‘The Giant Colossal Cucumber Man’ or extolling the splendour of ‘Brighton Day’. Once you quickly adjust to the freeform naivety of it all it is everybody else who seems to lack sense; once possessed by the man’s indefatigable spirit, the world is a much more pleasant place to be.
Nick Edwards’s Ekoplekz project is guerrilla-nomadic in terms of label dwelling [Punch Drunk, Perc Trax, Further and Public Information are just some of the label that have played host to his work] but Mordant Music still feels like the project’s most appropriate home and it is with MM that Edwards has released his two most grandiose projects, both as deliriously packaged double cassette editions. The first of these, from last year, Memowrekz, was an insanely sprawling set that nailed a kind of post-rave industrial music – a bizarre melding of Radiophonic textures, dub decay and Cabaret Voltaire primitive weirdness that was as fucking mental as it was disarmingly listenable (possibly pushing Edwards into a subsequently ferocious blast of noise for Punch Drunk not long after). Skalectrikz, the just dropped second Ekoplekz album for Mordant matches that first album’s two hours running time and exquisite packaging with a collection of live edits and studio outtakes – another brutal and monolithic slab of sound that highlights what a unique force Ekoplekz has become – simultaneously now and then, totally off-world and yet kind-of-street.
Ekoplekz has become a unique force – simultaneously now and then, totally off-world and yet kind-of-street.
Practically all of those previous remarks could be applied to Vindicatrix (aka David Aird), apart from maybe the street part, unless the street was cobbled in Weimar Germany and uncovered on Mars. Aird’s 2009 album Die Alten Bosen Lieder was the most remarkable of that year, possibly of the last five years and has to be heard (and seen live) to be believed. And even then you might not. Singing in both English and German with an operatic croon the exact mirror of Scott Walker now (!), Vindicatrix rides the strangest space-stations of sound – degraded dubstep with cracked fragments of classical and Lieder, Die Alten really resembles nothing past or present. This was followed by a simply extraordinary cover of ‘Human Nature’ (as ‘Hume’) and if live performances are anything to go by then the forthcoming album may ended up even further out there.
Is there any kind of universal running through this warped canon? I would argue that there certainly is a raw cohesion – rough sounds rather than smooth; frayed round the edges; abstract breakdowns and interrupted narratives but narratives all the same. There is a sense of something vague lost. an elusive melancholy; this is music that cops a backwards look (albeit somewhat askew), only to move elsewhere. You could confidently argue that the Mordant zone is not one that is entirely at home with the present socially, politically or aesthetically but this critical reluctance never becomes a noose (as it unfortunately seems to have for the currently rather woolly Ghost Box). Also, with artefacts like MisinforMation and the subsequent BFI commission for Mordant Music to re-score Bunuel and Dali’s Un Chien Andalu, Mordant Music’s subtle subversions tentatively reach tendril-like in to the wider world
This is a home for mavericks nestling on the periphery of the most vital genres.
Mordant Music remains vital, unpredictable and captivating because it feels instinctually visionary – this is a home for mavericks nestling on the periphery of the most vital genres, one that is nonetheless liberated enough to pursue its own unlikely trajectories. The recent news that the label is planning to release material by the towering electronic genius that is Tod Dockstader is yet further testament to a brilliant, single-minded vision that evidently has much more to offer in the months and years to come.