1943 Comics and the Retro Hugos

I wrote some pieces on 1943 publications for the Dublin Worldcon blog, as a guide to people who are nominating for the Retro Hugo awards, which will be awarded at the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin this year. One of these posts included a discussion of 1943 comics. Comics are a visual medium but I did not include images there for fear of getting Worldcon into copyright trouble. I have no such fears regarding my own blog, so here is a discussion of 1943 comics, with added images.

Comics have sometimes been a bit of a problem category for the Retro Hugos. Lots of people like comics and lots of comics were published in years eligible for Retro Hugo recognition, but many 1940s comics were extremely ephemeral, never reprinted and only read in more recent years by serious collectors. There are online databases containing scans of vintage comics now in the public domain, notably Comic Book Plus and the Digital Comic Museum, but they are a bit terrifying in the amount of material they offer. The Digital Comic Museum unfortunately does not have an obvious means of searching its database by year, but Comic Book Plus does at least allow readers to see comics published month by month in 1943. If readers start here they will see comics books whose precise 1943 cover date is unknown. Clicking on next brings up January 1943 comics, and so on. Comics here can be downloaded (after registering) or viewed online. So, trawling there might uncover comics worth nominating, but beware: many big comics of the era are still in copyright and are not included in Comic Book Plus (or indeed in the Digital Comics Museum). Batman and Superman appeared in a variety of titles and formats in 1943 but neither of them are to be found in these datasets.

One comic that is not in either of those databases, presumably because it remains in copyright, is The Victory Garden, which appeared in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #31. This sees a popular anthropomorphic duck’s attempts to grow vegetables being thwarted by some greedy crows. The Victory Garden is noteworthy as the first Donald Duck comic drawn by Carl Barks. Carl Barks also gave us The Mummy’s Ring (originally appearing in Four Color Comics #29) in which Donald and his nephews find themselves caught up in Egyptological adventures.

Wonder Woman and Plastic Man have appeared separately in two 1943 comics that have received some praise. Plastic Man and the Game of Death (by Jack Cole for Quality Comics) sees the stretchable superhero take on a death cult, Japanese spies (with the usual problematic stereotyping) and cowboys in a series of bizarre adventures. Meanwhile in Battle for Womanhood (by created by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter for All-American Publications and appearing in Wonder Woman #5) Wonder Woman faces up against Dr. Psycho, who attempts to undermine the US war effort by creating a spectral George Washington who warns against the employment of women in war industries. Dr. Psycho’s motivation seems to be straightforward misogyny rather than axis-sympathies, with this villainous genius wanting to reverse the gains women have achieved in American society. Marva, his wife, is bound to him by his hypnotic powers and he is keen to reduce all women to a state of servitude, something Wonder Woman is keen to prevent (although she is briefly enslaved by Dr. Psycho herself). As befits Marston’s feminist views, the story ends with Dr. Psycho’s defeat and Marva freed to receive a message of female empowerment.

Newspaper strips were an important part of the comics firmament in 1943. The year saw the conclusion of the Flash Gordon series Fiery Desert of Mongo (by Alex Raymond for King Features Syndicate).

Two Buck Rogers strips concluded this year, Martians Invade Jupiter and Mechanical Bloodhound (both by Dick Calkins for National Newspaper Syndicate); these were subsequently collected as Volume 9 of the Buck Rogers In The 25th Century: Dailies.
The Brick Bradford newspaper strip On the Throne of Titania, created by Clarence Gray and William Ritt for the Central Press Association, finished its run of more than two years in 1943. Like Flash Gordon, Brick Bradford started life as a Buck Rogers knock-off before embarking on his own travels through both time and space, eventually becoming better known in Europe than in the USA. As well as the daily strips, Gray and Ritt also produced a weekly Brick Bradford strip for the Sunday newspapers, with The Men Of The North and Ultrasphere both finishing in 1943.
1943 also saw the conclusion of the Sunday newspaper strip John Carter of Mars, adapted by John Coleman Burroughs from his father’s books and distributed by United Feature Syndicate. The strip was less successful than Rice Burroughs’ novels and was sadly cancelled in midstream in March 1943; readers never did get to see Dak Kova’s prize).
A more popular newspaper strip in 1943 was Prince Valiant, created by Hal Foster for King Features Syndicate. Readers may have encountered Fantagraphics’ reprints of Prince Valiant, volume 4 of which includes stories from 1943. Little Orphan Annie (by Harold Gray, for Tribune Media Services) was also widely read.
In 1943 as now comics were not just being published in the Anglophone world. In Nazi-occupied Belgium, Hergé was writing Tintin comics, with Secret of the Unicorn published in book form by Casterman and its sequel Red Rackham’s Treasure serialised in Le Soir. Unlike some other Tintin titles, neither of these deal particularly with science fictional or explicitly fantastic themes, yet there is a strange outlandishness to all of Tintin’s adventures that could slide them into Hugo eligibility.

Another noteworthy Belgian comic of 1943 is Le Rayon U (translated much later into English as The U Ray) by Edgar P. Jacobs (more famous for his subsequent Blake & Mortimer comics). Le Rayon U appeared in the pages of Bravo and is a fantasy/science fiction tale in the Flash Gordon mould, which it was produced to replace, as the US entry into the war meant that Flash Gordon comics could no longer be imported into Europe.

image sources:

The Victory Garden (The Disney Wiki)

The Mummy’s Ring (Pencil Ink)

Battle for Womanhood (The Wonders You Can Do: Doctor Psycho: One of Wonder Woman’s Vilest Villains)

Flash Gordon & Desira (Black Gate: Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Nineteen – “Fiery Desert of Mongo”)

Brick Bradford (Comic Art Fans)

John Carter of Mars, the final episode (The Daily Cartoonist: First and Last – John Carter of Mars Comic Strip)

Prince Valiant (The Comics Journal)

Tintin & co. land on an island (Tintin official site: Red Rackham’s Treasure)

Le Rayon U (Cool French Comics)


1943 Science Fiction and Fantasy Art

As you know, the World Science Fiction Convention is coming to Dublin this year. At this the Hugo Awards for science fiction (and fantasy) works produced in 2018 will be bestowed, but so too will the Retro Hugos, for works produced in 1943. I wrote blog posts for Worldcon on eligible 1943 material, as an assistance to nominators. One of these posts included a list of professional artists who had produced eligible work in 1943. Because I was unsure of the copyright situation regarding hotlinked images and did not want to set the intellectual property cops onto Worldcon, I did not include any pictures in that post. However I do not really care about the copyright cops coming after me, so here are those Retro Hugo eligible artists again, this time with samples of their work. Unless otherwise stated, the images are either from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database or from Galactic Central (which was in turn linked to from the ISFDB).

Many science fiction and fantasy artists of 1943 earned their living creating covers for magazines, some of which could be pretty lurid.

A. R. Tilburne: Weird Tales, January 1943, Weird Tales, September 1943, & Weird Tales, November 1943

Earle K. Bergey: Startling Stores, June 1943 Captain Future, Summer 1943, & Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1943

George Gross: Jungle Stories, April 1943, Jungle Stories, February 1943, & Jungle Stories, Summer 1943

George Rozen: Planet Stories, Fall 1943 & Planet Stories, May 1943

Harold W. McCauley: Fantastic Stories, May 1943, Amazing Stories, May 1943, & Fantastic Adventures, June 1943

J. Allen St. John: Amazing Stories, January 1943 & Amazing Stories, February 1943

Jerome Rozen: Planet Stories, March 1943

Lawrence: Famous Fantastic Mysteries: December 1943

Margaret Brundage: Weird Tales, May 1943(pretty tame by Brundage’s usual standards)

Milton Luros: Astonishing Stories, February 1943, Future Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1943, & Science Fiction, July 1943

Robert Fuqua: Amazing Stories, March 1943, Amazing Stories, April 1943, & Amazing Stories, August 1943

Robert Gibson Jones: Fantastic Adventures, February 1943, Fantastic Adventures, March 1943, & Amazing Stories, November 1943

Virgil Finlay: Famous Fantastic Mysteries, March 1943, Super Science Stories, February 1943, & Super Science Stories, May 1943

William Timmins: Astounding Science Fiction, February 1943, Astounding Science Fiction, June 1943, & Astounding Science Fiction, October 1943

Mervyn Peake would subsequently gain a measure of fame as the author of the Gormenghast novels, but in 1943 he was attempting to earn a living as an artist. His eerie illustrations for an edition of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner appear to be Retro Hugo eligible.
(image from Mervyn Peake, the Official Site)

Children’s book illustrations might also be the kind of thing that appeals to Retro Hugo nominators. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s own illustrations for The Little Prince are a big part of that book’s appeal. Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree would not be the same without Dorothy M. Wheeler‘s illustrations.
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry image from Faena Aleph, Dorothy Wheeler from The Enid Blyton Society)

Boring disclaimer: this list of Retro Hugo eligible artists is not definitive and there may well be other, better artists whose readers’ own researches will uncover.

“Bohemian Rhapsody”: a morning at the cinema

As you know, there is a film currently in the cinemas called Bohemian Rhapsody, which purports to tell the story of popular band Queen. It has been out for a while and I only got to see it recently. Discussion around the film had made me interested in it, with the most intriguing aspect of this being that generally its critical reception had been a bit lukewarm while reaction from audiences was extremely positive. Not everyone can be right on this and I was curious as to where sound judgement lay. So eventually when a morning gap in my incredibly busy life presented itself I sneaked off to the cinema to see it.

I mostly see films in the Irish Film Institute or the near-to-me Lighthouse, both of which have pretensions towards being art house cinemas even if they sneak a lot of mainstream fare onto their screens. But Bohemian Rhapsody was on in Cineworld, which is part of some big cinema chain, and while Cineworld does show some stuff from the edges it is unashamedly a commercial cinema. The trailers before Bohemian Rhapsody were an interesting reminder of how terrible the great morass of mainstream films can be, with our options for future cinema trips including some terrible piece of heartwarming gloop about a couple who adopt three children, an Oscar-tipped formulaic buddy film about a white guy driving a black concert pianist around the South (a film which in premise had at least the potential to be interesting but which in realisation appears to have gone for the laziest and most Academy Award friendly approach to its subject), and some film about a British woman who takes up wrestling (which might actually be semi-OK just maybe, as it features impressive rising actor Florence Pugh in the main role). But my overall sense from the Cineworld trailers was that Cineworld is generally best avoided if you actually like films.

Bohemian Rhapsody itself… well, it starts with the 20th Century Fox fanfare and logo, but something does not seem right about the fanfare, with the music sounding distorted, somehow different from the original… and then it hits: the fanfare is being played on guitar by Brian May. Enveloped by Queen’s Live Aid performance, the film then goes on to tell the story of the band or rather of its singer, Freddie Mercury (played by Rami Malek). The plot is pretty formulaic in some regards: the band forms, becomes successful, then tensions lead to Freddie heading off to record solo albums only for the band to then reform to play their triumphant Live Aid set. However because of the focus on Freddie there are other angles that maybe would not come up in more usual rock biographies: his Zoroastrian upbringing and conservative family background and then his coming to terms with his own sexuality.

Focussing the film on Freddie makes obvious sense. His charisma makes him more interesting than the other band members and his personal journey lends the film a narrative focus that one based on “And then we released another record” might lack. That said, the other members of the band still get enough screen time to be established as actual people rather than Sleeperblokes, with John Deacon (played by Joseph Mazzello), the slightly forgettable fourth member of the band (for all that he wrote some of their biggest hits) coming across as particular roffler, playing against the character’s boring reputation. I was also impressed by the way even minor characters seemed to have a bit of depth to them, with Paul Prenter (the film’s main villain, a shifty music biz type who starts leeching off Freddie and turning him against his bandmates) still getting an impressive speech about growing up gay in Belfast. Likewise, ending the film with Live Aid also makes narrative sense, as Queen’s concert performance then was a triumph and ceasing at that point avoids the embarrassing slide into shite of the band’s records in the latter part of the 1980s.
The film’s musical numbers still pack a punch. Even if you found the narrative a bit trite the short plot interludes before the next big tune would be worth the wait (assuming you are not one of those people who hate Queen). But the dramatic side I nevertheless found very powerful, with the contrast between the still pretty reactionary times in which Queen flourished contrasting with Freddie’s own flamboyant yet masked sexuality. Much of the scenes involving Freddie were to me extremely moving, whether his discovery that he has HIV and his revealing of this to the band, his relationship with one-time fiancée and close friend Mary Austin (played by Lucy Boynton), or his reconciliation with his parents on the morning of Live Aid. Readers may have me down as a hard-bitten cynic, but I have not cried so much at a film since the opening of Up (the Disney-Pixar film, not the Russ Meyer classic). I also liked all the cats.

The film is of course not without its critics. It does rather downplay the bacchanalian excess of Queen in the 1970s, or at least suggests that bacchanalian excess was Freddie’s thing and a matter that the other band members found a bit tiresome. The film does not feature any dwarfs carrying trays of cocaine on their heads (perhaps due to political correctness). That said, the film does pretty much establish that no cracked plate was safe from the attentions of Roger Taylor, but there is still a sense that apart from Mercury the other members of the band were more interested in nights in with a cup of cocoa than the temptations offered to successful rock bands. But whatever. There is also the criticism that the film is tacitly homophobic, focussing over much on Freddie’s relationship with Austin and peddling a gay = sad line. I’m not sure I buy this; Mercury’s relationship with Austin genuinely does seem to have been the defining relationship of his adult life (she minded his cats while he was on tour and he also left most of his money to her), so it would be strange for the film not to feature her. And the times when the film was set were not necessarily great ones for those drawn to same-sex love, with decriminalisation still recent and then disease cutting a swathe through the gay community. As far as I can recall, Freddie Mercury never actually came out as such, though gradually people came to register that he was not actually the heterosexual action man that some of his followers saw him as; I wonder if perhaps that might have been because like with George Michael the public adoption of a gay persona would have caused familial ructions.

There are other oddities with the film… like it being a complete work of fiction. It presents the Live Aid concert as a triumphant reunion for Queen, with the recently HIV diagnosed Freddie playing the gig to give himself a legacy (‘Right thoughts, right words, right actions’, as he says to his father, quoting a Zoroastrian motto). Yet Queen never actually split up, playing the last gig of their previous tour only two months or so before Live Aid. And Freddie appears not to have told his bandmates that he was HIV positive until 1989 and may not even have contracted the disease until after Live Aid. But hey, real life is complicated and often too messy for narratives.

The film has also attracted controversy because its original director Bryan Singer has attracted Bad Person accusations; Singer was sacked as director for other reasons and the film finished by Dexter Fletcher, but his name remains on the picture. I know people jump different ways on issues like this, but for me an art work is separate from the person or persons who made it and these credible allegations are not going to stop me enjoying a film. With film in particular I am always struck by how they are a collective endeavour produced by a great many people, and to me it seems deeply problematic to junk a film because one of those people has been credibly accused of bad things. But as they say, YMMV.

So yeah, don’t believe the rumours (unless you have heard rumours that the film is v good). Go and see Bohemian Rhapsody, it is amazing. Maybe like me you will leave the cinema and rush off to buy a copy of the band’s greatest hits.

image source:

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury (Film Comment – Film of the Week: Bohemian Rhapsody)

Le Guess Who: Day 4 “Your embarrassing drunk aunt at a wedding”

This is the final part of my fascinating account of the Le Guess Who festival. Previously I posted about the first, second and third days.

The last day of Le Guess Who was Sunday 11 November, which was an exciting day for me as it was the hundredth anniversary of the Western Front armistice, about which I had many posts on my amazing World War 1 blog. But being now in 2018, the day began not with last minute heroics but with food. My beloved and I had signed up for this thing called Le Feast, which was another spin-off from the main Le Guess Who, which in this case saw people (i.e. us) going to the homes of random Utrecht residents for brunch. In our case we made a short journey outside the central zone to the home of Daniek and Jaap where we were served tasty noms of a broadly Middle Eastern inspired variety. Other guests included a Dutch goldsmith and an anglophone couple who revealed that they were Welsh when I asked if they were from “England” [/embarrassment]; they turned out to be coffee roasters. The whole experience was very enjoyable, largely thanks to our gracious hosts and the tasty food they served us, which was delicious without being nonsensical. In fact the brunch might be the highlight of the festival and I urge anyone who goes to Le Guess Who next year to make sure they sign up for it. I am making myself hungry just thinking of it again. If the table looks bare in the photographs that is because we had eaten all the food by the time the photographer arrived.
I then tried to catch a concert in by Eleanor Friedberger playing in an out of the way venue but so it turned out did everyone else. Once I realised that the queue I had joined was for people to be admitted on a one-in-one-out basis and not the queue to be let in once the doors opened I made my excuses and left. I did think of heading into the outer suburbs of Utrecht to see Mudhoney but this plan ran aground on account of my not being arsed and also fearing that their venue would also be too full, earning me a wasted journey for our troubles. So instead beloved and I went to the Belgian beer pub that boasts its own pub cat, or so Mr B—- had informed us. We did not see the cat but we did see his bowl.

Circuit des Yeux

And then to the Tivoli for a last evening of music. In the big venue we saw Circuit des Yeux performing music with members of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. I had previously listened to Ms des Yeux’s recent album Reaching for Indigo but I can’t say it made much of a positive impression on me. I recall enjoying the live performance more but did wonder how much of that was down to the semi-orchestral accompaniment. I’m not sure exactly what it is that puts me off the Circuit des Yeux project. I mean, she is a bit goth so should be right up my alley, but I find her deep vocal style a bit unappealing (and yet a deep female vocal style has never put me off the likes of Nico). I think I might be the problem here.
Cocktail Bar

It may have been around this point that I had an Old Fashioned from the festival cocktail bar. It was very nice.

The next performance was a more bizarre one as it was by Eartheater, whose description in the programme as a “Queens based artist” was considered ominous in some quarters. Ms Eartheater vocalises to synthesiser accompaniment, with her vocals seeming to me at least to be more or less completely non-verbal. There was also a dance element to her performance or at least a physicality to it that approximated to dance while perhaps deriving from first principles rather than any kind of rigorous dance training (NB I have no idea of Ms Eartheater’s background; she could be trained ballerina for all I know). As avant-garde nonsense goes I found this performance very impressive but there were aspects of it I found a bit problematic. Specifically she wore some class of crop top that continuously threatened to fall down and reveal her assets to the audience; eventually it did [/spoiler]. I suppose I am bit old and weird and not down with the young people and their letting-it-all-hang-out philosophy, but this bit seemed somewhat gratuitous to me and undermined the serious bonkers avant-garde artist schtick that the rest of the performance was going for.


“Your embarrassing drunk aunt at a wedding” was how one person was heard to describe Ms Eartheater but, poppage and subsequent topless performance notwithstanding, I would still judge her to be one of the festival’s highlights.

We stuck our nose into the venue where Lucrecia Dalt was playing but left again as her music was a bit too quiet. But when we found ourselves watching The Comet Is Coming the opposite was the case and their extreme volume sent us on our way, as well as the faint fear that with their combo of synthy keyboards and jazz saxophone they were like the evil progressive jazz band in La La Land (an unfair comparison).

The Comet Is Coming

That brought us almost to the end of the night. For the want of anything better to to do my beloved and I repaired to another of the Tivoli venues to see Swamp Dogg, who is an R&B performer of advanced years. The music was of the old school blues and R&B variety but the real star here was Mr Swamp Dogg himself, who is both blessed with a still impressive voice for that kind of music and an extremely rofflesome persona. I particularly liked when he stopped in the middle of singing a song about how he is some class of lover man to say “Not anymore I’m not – maybe 20 years ago”. His inability to remember his band’s names when he was trying to introduce them was a poignant reminder of what lies ahead of us. And he also had to be restrained by his band when he was looking to climb down off the stage into the audience, an attempt that looked like it could have led to disaster, given his now fragile state. There was something very life affirming about Swamp Dogg’s performance and it made for a perfect end to the festival.
Swamp Dogg

Final Verdict

The test with any festival is whether you would go again. I am not sure with Le Guess Who, as two of its featured irritated me. Firstly was the massive multi-tracking and the FOMO it engendered, rendered all the more acute by the fact that so many of the acts were unfamiliar to me that it was not always obvious which ones should be plumped for. I have been to other massively multi-tracked festivals before, notably Glastonbury, but the problem here seemed to be much more acute, perhaps because this indoor city festival was not as relaxing as an outdoor hippy festival in olde England. The other irksome factor was the frequency with which it proved impossible to see plumped-for performers, because the venues they were playing in were full to capacity. That meant that it was consistently impossible to rush straight from one concert to another as one needed to be in a venue half an hour before an artist started to be sure of catching the performance. But maybe these are minor irritations and I will next year find myself at Le Guess Who once more.


Le Feast images, by Mirel Masic (Facebook: Le Feast 2018)

Swamp Dogg and I, by Jeimer De Haas (Le Guess Who: LGW18 – Photo Recap Day 4)

More of my Le Guess Who photographs

More of my Utrecht photographs

Le Guess Who: Day Three – frenetic world music and 17th century proto-atonality

This is the third part of my interminable account of my time at the Le Guess Who festival. Previously I posted about the first and second days. This post deals with things I saw on Saturday 10 November.

After lying in until after our housemates had disappeared off into the fleshpots of Utrecht, my Beloved and I had our own breakfast and went off to a former industrial area beyond the old Utrecht walls. Bringing us here was an exhibition of material by the industrial designer Dieter Rams, whose work is often advertised in the pages of the LRB (the other paper of record). Mr Rams is known for the simplicity and clarity of his design work, values that were sadly not in evidence in the venue where his work was being displayed, as it was extremely difficult to find a way into the exhibition space, which appeared to be completely unsignposted. It turned out that the exhibition could only be accessed from the toilet space of a local restaurant. The exhibition itself featured a pleasing range of consumer electronic items of yore, featuring interesting pieces of audiovisual kit from an age when such things did not all have to be black.

That evening then saw us catch a triple header of World music type stuff in the Tivoli’s Cloud Nine venue (so called because it is located on the ninth floor). First up was Hailu Mergia, the taxi-driving Ethiojazz sensation who treated us to his smooth stylings. Then there was Cüneyt Sepetçi, a Turkish clarinettist playing what was billed as Turkish gypsy music. It was pretty exciting and indeed quite dancey, like a slightly more sedate version of Omar Souleyman. Indeed, for all that Turkish and Syrian music are different to each other, this had me thinking that it must be like the unelectronic ur-music on which Souleyman’s turbo-dabke accompaniment is based on.

Speaking of Omar Souleyman, the third of the world musicers was none other than Rizan Said, Omar Souleyman’s keyboardist. It was not clear why he was playing without the vocalist; is there a disturbance in the Force that has sundered their partnership or was Said just playing some solo gigs to show that he has the necessary chops? No answer was provided though his bio in the Le Guess Who programme reports that he has provided music to numerous Syrian artists, as well as to Syrian films and TV programmes, so perhaps he is seeking to make clear that he has an independent existence to the dabke master.

The synthesised music that Said was playing was broadly similar to that which he plays on Omar Souleyman records: frenetic, preternaturally fast approximations to acoustic drum patterns and mental wind instrument melodies. It was great for the dancing and there were even some people attempting dabke dancing in the audience. Initially he played on his own but then he was joined by a vocalist, whose name I did not learn. This guy was interesting, as I found it impossible not to compare him to Souleyman. He was definitely a more accomplished singer, with a far more tuneful voice, but he lacked the astonishing charisma of the master. Nevertheless, we saluted his efforts.

It was now quite late and we made our way from the Tivoli complex, but not to the rest of our bed but to the Janskerk, where we caught the last third of 17th century composer Carlo Gesualdo‘s Tenebrae Responsoria, a four hour long suite of music being performed by the Graindelavoix vocal ensemble. Most people I know are unfamiliar with the crazy life and works of Mr Gesualdo, but I had previous with him thanks to a concert in Dublin by local choral group Gaudete that focused on his work. The most notorious detail of his life is that he murdered his wife and her lover after discovering them in the act of love, escaping legal retribution because nobles like him were above the law. His music is known for its prefiguring of atonal music of the 20th century.

Previous concerts we had attended in the Janskerk had the performers at one end with all the seats facing towards them. For the Tenebrae Responsoria they rearranged the seating so that there was a long central aisle, towards which the pews now faced, perpendicular to the front of the church. The performers, a relatively small group of vocalists, did their thing in the central aisle, but they changed location between each subsection, so people sitting in different locations got to see and hear them up close at least some of the time and interest themselves with the Janskerk’s acoustics as the performers changed location. Overall this was a magical and spectral experience and a definite highlight of the festival, with the only downside being the couple of buzzwreckers who had smoked or drank a bit too much and were a bit disruptive until one of them fell asleep.

IMPORTANT NOTE: neither of the buzzwreckers appear in the above picture.
final part of my Le Guess Who write-up coming real soon


Dieter Rams record player (Modern Magazine – Dieter Rams: Obsolescence Is a Crime)

Carlo Gesualdo (Wikipedia)

More of my Le Guess Who photographs

More of my Utrecht photographs

Le Guess Who: Day Two

This is part two of my account of November’s Le Guess Who festival in Utrecht. Part one can be seen here. This part deals with Friday 9 November, the second day of the festival.

The main part of the festival was taking a break during the day, which left us with an opportunity to visit a place called BAK to see an exhibition entitled Forensic Justice that was being shown in conjunction with Le Guess Who. This had been put together by Forensic Architecture, a radical architectural organisation headed by Eyal Weizman, whose work has previously appeared in the LRB (the other paper of record). We watched a series of videos where the Forensic Architecture people carefully dissected video and other evidence to investigate official narratives of events. These were interesting as examples of how the panopticon society in which we live does not just lead to a Big Brother society in which the State continuously watches us, but one in which non-state actors have the tools to expose illicit state action.
Some of the Forensic Justice installations were pretty intense, like the reconstructions from multiple CCTV images of a hospital in Aleppo being bombed by the Syrian air force, which showed people being thrown around by the force of an explosion, or their analysis of the killing of two Palestinian school children (unarmed, not obviously taking part in rioting or even demonstrations, apparently on their way home from school), which showed they were killed by Israeli soldiers firing live bullets but falsely claiming to have fired only rubber bullets.

For me though I think the most upsetting was an analysis of the fatal beating of Pavlos Fyssas, a Greek anti-fascist, by members of the Golden Dawn, with the analysis of Forensic Architecture showing that the Greek police had stood by and let the attack happen. What made that the most disturbing I think is that crazy things (hospitals being bombed or soldiers shooting school kids) seem almost normal in crazy places like Syria or Palestine, but they are much more unheimlich in an urbane and democratic country like Greece. Good job nothing like that happens closer to home, eh readers?

The last examination we saw by Forensic Architecture was something of a relief as it did not involve anyone losing their life. Instead by careful analysis of several video clips they appeared to disprove the assertion of the Italian coast guard that a sea rescue vessel was operating in concert with people smugglers.

There was more of Forensic Justice that we could have watched (something to with the unfortunate plight of Orangoutangs) but I can only take so much, so we left BAK and headed off to Lombok, which is another area of Utrecht where a Le Guess Who satellite festival was taking place. Beside an impressive mosque there was a food market taking place, with stalls selling a variety of tasty noms. We sampled their wares. Lombok seems to be multicultural bit of Utrecht so we were also treated to some guys walking around playing drums and those squeaking trumpets they have in the Orient. There were also some children doing some class of traditional dance for us; I think they might have been Turkish rather than Arab but it’s hard to tell. I definitely admired their intense concentration.

And then we strolled around Lombok looking for further excitement. And we found it in the form of some class of Dabke flashmob taking place outside a church. If you do not know Dabke, it is the traditional dance thing from Syria and Palestine and other places round there, typically done by guys joining arms, often forming rings that rotate frenetically. This is what was going on here, with some attempt to bring home to Whitey that Dabke does feature actual steps and is not just all about the speed. We watched amusedly from a distance, careful not to be drawn into the maniacal gyres.

At some point we were sated by Dabke, so pretty much at random visited a place called the Ubuntuhuis, where some chap called Cengiz Arslanpay was going to be combining electronic music with his ney flute (ney!). The Ubuntuhuis turned out not to be a place for people to hang out working on the latest Linux releases but rather some class of centre for homeless people and persons newly arrived in the country. The venue where Mr Arslanpay was playing was living room sized and we were all more or less on top of the player but that made it all that bit more entertaining. Sadly he was unable to treat us to his electronics for reasons but he did play a succession of different Turkish flutes.

My Beloved and I reunited with our spiritual guru Mr B— in the Tivoli complex and went to see some chap called Serpentwithfeet (I think he might call himself serpentwithfeet but I do not hold with proper nouns beginning with lower case letters; frankly he should be glad I am leaving the spaces out of his name). Mr Feet is not actually a serpent, footed or otherwise, but an impractical red anorak wearing fellow from the USA. He apparently used to be a choirboy but now he makes music that is sometimes classed as experimental but seemed to me to be a fairly accessible form of R&B. The real joy of his performance came from his persona as presented to the audience, which was basically camp and endearingly positive. Everyone who saw him was happier than they were beforehand.

We then split off to the Janskerk again to see some of Vashti Bunyan, the lost folkie sensation who is now back in action. Ms Bunyan whispers very quietly between songs but then when singing projects at an audible but restrained volume suiting the delicate nature of her songs. She is also a bit of a roffler, quipping at one point that back in the day she was told her music had no commercial potential before launching into ‘Train Song’, from whose relentless use in films and advertisements she has made a mint. Overall though I wished that scheduling had meant that I arrived early enough to get a good seat at the front.

Back in the Tivoli complex I let myself be brought to see Paddy Steer, wondering if I had made a terrible mistake. For the first song I thought that maybe I had but then either he got better or I was reprogrammed. Mr Steer’s music is an odd combination of analogue synth sounds and live drumming, with his vocals affected by the vocoder type thing he has in the space helmet he wears for some of the songs. I was intrigued by the question of whether all of the music was strictly live, as the drumming seemed pretty intricate and hard to imagine someone doing while also playing synths but it was impossible to be certain either way as he had a bank of equipment largely obscuring our view of whatever he was doing with his hands. We nevertheless did get to see his impressive space suit. Overall Paddy Steer hovers gamely on the borderlands between weirdo art music and novelty shite, staying I think on the right side of that boundary.

I stuck my head briefly into where Blanck Mass were playing and was a bit surprised by what I saw. Blanck Mass have a membership overlap with Fuck Buttons, but the my sense of how they divided was that Fuck Buttons played the more heavy beaty stuff while Blanck Mass play music that is not entirely dissimilar except that it is a bit beat free, making the music a weird kind of in your face ambient (use your Babbage machine to compare Fuck Button’s ‘Brainfreeze‘ with Blanck Mass’s ‘Chernobyl‘). But on the face of this performance Fuck Buttons and Blanck Mass appear to have converged, with the music on offer tonight featuring lots of big fucking beats. I reckon this would have been great to dance to if you were so inclined. Even as listening music it was not unentertaining, but we were a bit *tired* so we repaired to our house and caught some Zzzzzs.

Day three coming soon!

Exhibition image source:

The Omar Bin Abdul Aziz Hospital in Aleppo (Forensic Architecture: Forensic Justice)

More of my Le Guess Who photographs

More of my Utrecht photographs

Le Guess Who: Day One

Since the demise of All Tomorrow’s Parties many have wondered if something would ever arise to take its place. Earlier this year my old friend and quaffing partner Mr B— asked me if I was interested in attending Le Guess Who in Utrecht. I was curious and as always am eager to hear exciting sounds, so I agreed to go, with the promise of a line-up based around strange weirdo music being the draw. This is an account of what happened there.

Le Guess Who is a city festival, with concerts taking place in venues across Utrecht but particularly focussed on the Tivoli Vredenburg, a central complex of multiple performance spaces, ranging from ones reminiscent of the Barbican main stage down to more intimate locales. As a city festival, Le Guess Who does not provide convivial chalet accommodation to its attendees; rather they must find their own places to stay, scattered across the attractive Dutch town. In our case we were staying in an Airbnb house in the university quarter, we being Mr B—, my beloved, Mr McG—, and myself.

The quaint olde worldeness of Utrecht
If you’ve never been to Utrecht and are wondering what it’s like… well it’s a bit like Amsterdam. Or rather all those olde Dutch town are like each other: canals, dinky buildings, sudden bursts of modernist architecture. Utrecht has less tourists than Amsterdam, but it makes up for the lack of stag party dickheads with another menace: out of control cyclists. It has also has a strangely non-Euclidean street layout that keeps feeling like it is approximating to a grid system when actually it is not. I think other people of less logical minds (and a willingness to let Google guide them around) found the city easier to navigate; for the first couple of days I was reduced to following them around hoping they knew where they were going. Anyway, let me adopt a day-by-day approach to the festival which may turn out to just be a list of people I saw as I am writing this a good bit afterwards and did not take any notes back then because I am a fule.

On the first night of the festival (a Thursday) an initial bug/feature of the event became apparent: it is massively multi-tracked. If you are lucky there are only five things to choose from at any one time, but there were sometimes more. So it was that I found myself missing DRINKS (sadly not a drinks reception but a two-person band featuring Cate Le Bon and someone else) and instead found myself in the Domkerk seeing an ensemble called ONCEIM performing a piece called ‘Occam Océan’. Who were they and what was this? Well ONCEIM are a contemporary music ensemble, the name being some class of acronym (in French, so I won’t write out the words as you would not understand them). ‘Occam Océan’ is a collaboration with Éliane Radigue, the French composer being bigged up by many cool members of Frank’s APA, the paper of record. The piece was a fascinating piece of edgy contemporary classical music, which broadly speaking might be my favourite class of music, and atmospheric environs of the church were a great place to hear it.

Forward thinking
ONCEIM were going to be playing again with Stephen O’Malley of SUNN-O))) but the festival’s multi-tracking and our own craving of varied experiences drew us away from the Domkerk to the Tivoli complex where after some exploration we settled down in front of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, legendary political jazz figures of yore (well they appear on that political jazz comp from SoulJazz). They were playing in the big main venue in the Tivoli, where every seat has a good view, and we looked down upon them like Olympians.
Then we hightailed it to another church, this one being the Janskerk, where the Jerusalem In My Heart Orchestra were playing. They had already started when we arrived and, as is traditional with church venues, bad sight lines meant it was a real struggle to actually see anything of the performance. Eventually though I managed to reach a point where I could see some of the musicians and some of the images being projected behind them, which looked like they were portrait photographs from the 1950s and 1960s by Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani, about whom I remember reading on the BBC News website; his photographs are mostly portraits, of individuals (sometimes posing with guns) and friends. Musically Jerusalem In My Heart play Middle Eastern classical music. On this occasion they were joined by an orchestra from Beirut (suggesting that normally they are not actually an orchestra) and were playing some 1928 piece from Egypt. Readers, I liked it and wished I had caught the whole concert from a comfy seat with a good view of the stage.

At that point we could have headed back to the Tivoli to catch any number of acts who were playing late into the night but instead we heeded the call of bed.

Scratched photograph image source:

Mrs Baqari, by Hashem el Madani (BBC News Magazine – Zaatari and Madani: Guns, flared trousers and same-sex kisses)

More of my Le Guess Who photographs

More of my Utrecht photographs