Angry Ambient Artists, eh? I like it. This ongoing series from Manchester’s Forwind aims to prompt a more combative relationship with a genre often associated with a numbed disengagement from the world. Not so much turn off your mind and float downstream as come and have a go if you think you can be bothered. Not that there isn’t anger already present in some sections of the ambient omniverse – for every surge of beatific swoon there’s a barely-concealed sneer of passive aggressive opacity, and round these parts sleepy warmth is often replaced by narcotic, introverted chilliness. But Angry Ambient Artists not only makes those grumpier edges visible but adds a welcome sonic diversity to near-beige tones of the typical ambient palette.
Volume 1, released back in August 2016, paired up prolific electro-scrabbler Machinefabriek with Marseilles noisemaker Philippe Petit for two short-but-jagged cuts, their distinction signalled by the fact that, unusually, they actually felt too short. Forwind has upped the ante a little for Volume 2, inviting Serbian sound artist Svetlana Maraš to contribute a couple of tracks and UK-based producer Bodies Under the Waterfall to hand over three. Both embrace the ethos of the series with gusto, with cuts that veer from the dankly unsettling to the downright abrasive, stepping far from the little/fluffy/uncanny ambient mould.
For me, Maraš stretches the template furthest, carving unkempt metallic flutters out of turbulent hiss on Habitat, the byte-chirrups seeming to evolve unaided into shapeshifting lumps of reverberating scratch and scruff as beams of blankface computer moan poke and prod the scarred surfaces. Companion piece Aftermath takes a similar approach but winds it tighter, with a fussy sparring of hisses and splutters. Run-down clanks and farts get deformed into pressured bubbles whose overheated squeaks seem fit to burst. The fact that Maraš is Serbian, combined with the title of this EP, begs listeners to make connections between the turbulent history of her homeland and the content herein. Yet there’s not really any explicit political narrative here, simply a malcontented subjectivity serving up blasted soundscapes for a world constantly under the cosh, aiming perhaps in its own way to nudge us in a different direction. Anger is an energy, most definitely.
Yet anger on its own is rarely enough. It’s hardly a groundbreaking statement to say that problems the word currently faces are complex. The way ahead is murky, not just because of the peculiar nature of the vested interests currently occupying the driving seat. Without direction – the hard work of politics, of building open communities, of protecting those in need – anger either coagulates into violence or crumbles into despair. And perhaps this latter mood is what Bodies Under the Waterfall (aka George Royle) lays at our feet with his contribution. These cuts take as their starting point a particular strain of current ambient electronica, the more-is-less school of Tim Hecker and Braeyden Jay that serves up gloopy beds of saturated noise within which barely-discernable shapes grumble and shift. Royle’s titles – Apathetic Pathetic, Drinking Problem – give us a pretty good idea where his head’s at, with the mood of opiated stasis fairly consistent across them. Hearing Apathetic Pathetic’s orchestral fragments battle against the thick glue of fuzz surrounding them is like listening to the BBC World Service on a home-made transistor radio under the duvet as the worst hangover rages in your brain. The scorched repetitions of Drinking Problem mark out the boxed-in despondency of one for whom the future is hardly full of fun. Anyone who’s ever listened to Throbbing Gristle will be familiar with the catharsis of listening to depressing music and Bodies Under the Waterfall provides a similar solace, usually aided by the undulating low-end throb running through each piece. The asymmetric loop of Drowns nails it, Royle’s Basinski-like fragments attaining an almost transcendent luminosity as they curl around and through distorted vocal samples like a jellyfish in the deep ocean. Engendering a kind of melancholic euphoria, it glides out of earshot long before it needs to. Give me this for the next 20 minutes or so and everything will be fine.