Ectogram: Splash Club, London.
Congratulations to Ectogram. Tonight they win first prize for being the strangest band I've ever seen. A total improbability. There must be lower odds on winning the lottery than the chances of this band actually existing. Either this is sheer heavenly coincidence or a divine musical connivance.
Let's just look at the facts. A quick glance reveals that, bloody hell, they've got no bass player. Oh, they must have it on backing tracks. Wrong. Look again and you focus on Ann who appears to be playing a solid 12 string guitar. Now you don't see many of them about, and if you have, they never sounded like this. But then few aspiring guitarists would consider using a violin bow as a viable option. However, as their other maniacal fret-man uses a drumstick for half of the show, I suppose fair's fair.
Atmospherically there's absolutely no contrivance which, for a Welsh band is unusual enough in itself. This is also borne out in their total lack of pretence, which doesn't go unappreciated.
As for their construction...their ghostly gameplan...it appears to consist of 30 minutes of trying to upstage each other while their perfectly equipped drummer acts like a conductor, a referee, an engine driver keeping everything perfectly on track whilst making sure that beneath the mayhem there is a definite and delicious direction.
On top of some very special and surrealistic guitar effects there lies a (perhaps accidental) genius ability to create pure white noise with an underlying ambience which, to extract, is like trying to make sense of those computer-generated dot-drawings. The important difference is that you don't have to feel like a total twat, while everyone else sees a dinosaur and all you can see is something akin to an unwanted, regurgitated kebeb.
Ann's vocals pierce parts of the body that any aspiring Slave or Master could only dream about, leaving an imprint on your brain. Such soaring pitch the world has probably not experienced since Lene Lovich hung up her hairclips.
Now don't let me put you off by making you think that this is something of an experimental excursion, because, although it is, it breaks the mould by being absolutely acceptable.
As for influences, the only conscious desire to be anything, as far as I can see, is to be as far away from everyday as is reasonably attainable.
Ectogram are not at home to banality.
(Adrian Hart, Sun Zoom Spark, may 1995)
Ectogram: Aberconwy Centre, Llandudno. 12.08.95
With its bards, novellists and masssed choirs, the Eisteddfod is the central event in the Welsh cultural and social calender; what is less well known is its youthful fringe, where the festival is an excuse to get away from parents for a highly charged week of drink, staying out, and sex. The atmosphere inside the centre is curiously innocent - just like a frat party or an American gym circa 1966. So when the warm up band attempt to give some life to their inept baggyisms with a finale that goes something like "We're all going to the Eisteddfod" the teenege crowd go wild with recognition. After this brief burst of activity they return to the seated position. from where they goggle at Ectogram.
Singer Ann Matthews, drummer Maeyc Hewitt and guitarist Alan Holmes (who does production work for Gorky's) do little to tailor their set to hedonistic teenagers. What they do offer is a fine post-punk/psych sonic assault; which means astringency rather than self indulgence, early Tom Verlaine rather than Jerry Garcia, striped neo-60's beatnik threads rather than long hair and crusty clothes.
They finish with a great psychotropic version of The Faust Tapes most relentless riffs; this translation from German cut-up grooves of the late 60's to Wales in 1995 makes perfect sense - two seperate cultures reaching a point of autonomy.
(Jon Savage, Mojo)
Splash Club, London
...Ectogram sound like a piece of electronic equipment for measuring things, and they're even wearing the sartorial equivalent of this - striped T-shirts and a nylon dress coloured in with diagonal zig-zags. It's their music made visible, all lines and wwwaves.
There's a horrible flashing light, a speed strobe that makes me feel queasy and, frankly, the music doesn't help. It's traffic discordance and car-engine tunes. Anne's trainers push on the wah-wah pedal and her voice sings upwards from the droning guitars; they play behind the frets on the guitars with drum sticks, frantically jabbing, but it doesn't make any difference. Anne says, "It's a hot and slippery set," but I hear no evidence of this.
Some days, you want bands to be the sound of heat and light, the scent of warm tar and petrol, but this evening smells of over-heated engines on a long drive down the motorway.
Ectogram make me feel carsick and stationary in a traffic jam.
(Eithne, Melody Maker, 13.07.96)
Ectogram/Plankton/DJ Will Sergeant
Upstairs at the Garage, London Last year's critical rehabilitaion of Echo And The Bunnymen was more than a little grating because of its rewriting of history that stated Bunnymen=Good, Solo Projects=Bad, when McCulloch actually wrote his most touching songs during his solo lean years.
Ochre, meanwhile, was the label that stuck with the Bunymen's Will Sergeant and his ambient Glide project, and Sergeant returns the favour by DJing tonight, mixing up kitsch Sixties girl pop with sitar driven psychedelia and rare Stereolab mixes. In these minor-celeb motivated days, it's difficult to imagine that anyone is here for any other reason.
Certainly notPlankton, cos they're memorably forgettable. Headliners Ectogram are more difficult to place. The female third of the group wears a silver lame dress and says things like "That's not feedback, that's...whatever that is." while gesturing at a Moog synth. The male two-thirds wear uniform Breton tops and keep their mouths shut. Together they occupy a seemingly contradictory middle ground betwen the spikiness of punk/garage and the overblown epic-ness and ambition of prog or space rock. There's an early eighties obuseness about the group - that angularity that the Welsh language readily lends itself to- but there are times when Ectogram recall loop and their ilk. They drag violin bows across their guitars to create the most painful noises and hack all manner of intriguing sounds from their instruments. For one song, a band member plays the drums with one hand and, the guitar with the other. That is ,they do the sort of thing that most bands have stopped doing - experimenting.
This should be taken as a partial recommendation, at least.
(David Hemingway, Melody Maker, 28.02.98)
I love Ectogram. I do. The whole point of my contribution to Sŵn was to 1) bring some bands down from North Wales [not as a crusade: Sŵn did a bloody good job of supporting the North, too: Gallops, Joy Formidable, Camera (who cancelled, I think) etc.], 2) to stick on bands that are unpredictable, original and challenge general preconceptions as to what music 'is'; or, more accurately, what *is* music.
There is no doubt, in my mind, that Ectogram *is* music.
It's a little like hearing music from an alien culture for the first time: Javanese drummers, or Japanese violins, where the sounds and scale are that alien they don't make sense, initially. You can feel your brain having to find new gears to slip into to appreciate what you're hearing.
Then it clicks.
The music takes form and, all of a sudden, you're hearing remarkable tones and harmonies that exist beyond the palette of normal music. It's like discovering new colours you hadn't known existed. It's a music that makes you wonder why we are, generally, drawn to such a small part of the spectrum; why we've been content, in Western society, to enjoy music fashioned from 12 notes when there are an infinite amount of others in between.
Another hackneyed visual comparison would be to TV's or computer displays: we're very happy with our high res screens that display tens of millions of colours and we wouldn't dream of going back permanently to 16 colour displays, or black and white (as satisfying as black and white can be).
Don't get me wrong, here: Ectogram aren't espousers of a completely new and radical sonic philosophy. I know that. But they do make music that is stimulating, provocative, frequently very beautiful, occasionally eerie and almost unlistenable. They make music that would make the X-Factor judges shit their pants, and I can think of no higher compliment than that! [Not the most pleasant image, though, I grant you.]
They are still rooted in some of the conventions of rock music: Maeyc's phenomenal, motorik drumming, electric guitars through amps and FX pedals; but they do sound like they aspire to stretching the possibilities of those conventions, which makes for a thrilling and challenging listen.
(DJ Adam Walton, Radio Wales, 17.11.08)
| Ectogram, Black Balloons, Facefish, Whales
Anglesey Arms, Menai Bridge
When asked what type of gig this was by a prospective attendee I thought weird was the best description. Afterwards it was agreed that did pretty much some things up. Not in a bad way though, I only knew Ectogram in advance but from themselves and the artists they put on I would expect the unexpected and the unconventional. On arrival, a projected backdrop of goats to-ing and fro-ing seemed to confirm this, but as an emissary of Satan I felt right at home
The main pull for me to head over this way instead of to yet another new venue in the Bay was the prospect of some “grindcore for the under 5’s” (their own description) from Whales. This is the recent experimental creation of the bassist formerly of the now apparently defunct Micrographia, a one man effort backed by 200bpm electronics, Fisher Price included. Personally I felt it could be grindcore but not as we know it Jim, but really it was more in the vein of random digital hardcore, Ween meets Mr Bungle, as opposed to the real thing delivered these days by the likes of Rotten Sound. Maybe it was just a piss take but when the sound levels are all over the place and you can’t tell if feed back is intentional or not it’s hard to judge whether there’s an earnest intention to push musical envelopes or make 15 minutes of noise.
A shift back into the comfort zone next with Face Fish which is a side project of Ectogram’s drummer Meic, with him up front providing the vocals as well as rhythm guitar to yer standard band line up. Reading up, it’s intended to be straight up unpretentious rock but I think they’re underselling themselves there as I really enjoyed the sleazy dark vibe they created. There was a simplicity to what they were doing but no element of pubrock cheese, more a raw threat of the like of their acknowledged influence The Stooges. One particularly relentless number powered along by the drums almost got into Spacemen Three territory, especially with the trance like spiral on the projection, and in general the repetitive lyric hooks and clashing guitars were thoroughly enjoyable.
Back to one man bands with Black Balloons, a guitarist playing with a projection of himself playing the guitar, although it didn’t particularly need to be in sync. What he created was interesting though as through the use of delay loops he built up some layered sonic effects that provided a sense of rhythm, initially wth the drawn out mellowness of God Speed! You Black Emperor, through the kind of stuff found in Justin Broadrick’s Final project onto a bit more harshness altogether. He also created blasted loops of higher pitched “electronic mouth organ” (one of those synths you blow in!) noise over the top that became quite wincing at times but I’m all for aural abuse. Topping things off was wavering vocal melodies that were not a particularly positive addition to the mix, although when he delivered one song (“Your face. When you come”?) with audible lyrics they were classics.
Finally Ectogram, who remain the conundrum that they may set out to be. I’ve seen them a few times and simultaneously don’t know any of their stuff and yet find myself recognising songs, or at least elements. I don’t know how precise they deliver their songs or whether there is an element of freedom to elaborate on the themes of their angular psychedelia. Some strikes me as tedious or rough, at other times you can be swept away by chorus effects, hypnotic beats and birthday girl Ann’s wails. They obviously have an established fanbase locally as well as the opportunity to take it abroad too so that can’t be knocked in the slightest. Plus the support like tonight they are giving to others who are willing to trial the musical senses is a positive thing too, enough to encourage me to keep checking what’s bubbling under.
(Mark WJ, link2wales, 16.10.08)