Paul Allen, late of Bristol psych unit The Heads, loosed his second album as Anthroprophh upon the world in September. Outside the Circle hangs song titles such as “2013 and She Told Me I Was Die” over a sonic countryside populated by the droopy third eye of stoner metal, the blinding astronomical event of Boredoms, and the dark absurdist kibitzing of The Mothers of Invention. Naturally, a few crania got bent. The Quietus wrote it “feels like the album that the equally eccentric and esoteric Akron/Family would become like the Manson Family and kill to make.”
Anthroprophh’s label, Rocket Recordings, has a bio up for the group on Bandcamp; the most striking thing is how it weaves promotional copy through entries from the Nurse With Wound list. The list, named after Steven Stapleton’s seminal musical outlet, dates back to 1979, when Nurse With Wound included an inventory of recording artists influential to them among copies of that band’s first album, Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella. In the ensuing decades, the list has taken on a life of its own, becoming a crucial document for collectors and the basis for much discussion, including whether some of the artists mentioned even exist.
Tiny Mix Tapes talked to Allen about his relationship with the Nurse With Wound list, music discovery, and the idea of an experimental-music canon.
Was the Nurse With Wound list fundamental for the band as collectors? What is your personal history with it?
I wouldn’t say it was fundamental to the band as a whole but for myself, it certainly provides a good reference for the kind of artists that were of great interest from a particular and prolific period within modern music. To me, the list is not an anachronism and has had some relevance for anyone curious about experimental music since its publication in 1979. I came to be aware of it via my burgeoning interest in krautrock. The Ultima Thule record shop website decided to print the list in its entirety. I never could afford or even obtain the first Nurse with Wound LP, especially at that time back in the late 90s, so I never saw it in the flesh, so to speak. I didn’t religiously hunt down a lot of the records on the list, and some of the music I just naturally bumped into in my search for artists I had never heard of before.
Do you see the names you cited — for example, Sonny Sharrock, Hugh Hopper, or the Los Angeles Free Music Society bands — as having a particular influence on Anthroprophh’s sound, and/or are you suggesting that you see yourself as part of a continuum of “out” music?
The intention of the new record wasn’t to create something that was “out” music. I wanted to do something that was more song-based and a bit more traditional rock. The aesthete in my subconscious mind didn’t allow that to happen and we ended up with something “out” unintentionally. The band as a whole are becoming more curious about this kind of music. I have always had an interest in strange sounds and music. I remember as a 12-year-old being into early Art of Noise and wanting to hear something that was more experimental and playful, but that ambition had to lay dormant for quite a while. The propensity for experimentation within the band isn’t pre-meditated… I think.
Which Nurse With Wound list entry was the nicest surprise for you when you finally heard it? What was surprising about it? (Bonus question: how did you obtain it?)
I think the Zweistein LP was the biggest surprise for me. Just the audacity of it. For Suzanne Doucet, previously a Schlager vocalist [Schlager is a style of European pop; in more recent years, Doucet has worked as a new-age music entrepreneur], to present to a major label three slabs of primitive sounds and field recordings all wrapped up in an elaborate foil and mirrored sleeve is incredible. It shows how the major labels were wandering around in the dark a little bit at that time, which I find quite enjoyable in retrospect. I found the record via internet for a very low price when such things happened. I had sent some euros to Germany in order to obtain it, as I did with a lot of the German records I was picking up at the time.
Who’s the most “psychedelic” artist on there, regardless of whether a shop owner would file their albums in the psych bin?
Probably Chrome, as Half Machine Lip Moves just shifts and turns in so many directions and has a very much nightmarish, dirty, opiate kind of psychedelia about it. On the odd occasion, you will have something to hang on to, like “Zombie Warfare (Can’t Let You Down),” with its chugging Hawkwind riffage and Dik Mik electronics to be followed by some brutalist concrete dissonance.
The issue we have in the UK is that since John Peel died, we have no arbiter of underground music to guide us. Due to the fragmentation of sources, you have to search with more effort to find some guidance.
Have the Nurse With Wound list and things like The Wire’s “100 Records That Set The World On Fire (While No One Was Listening)” feature created a canon of experimental music, and is that good or bad?
I really don’t know, to be honest. I don’t see the Nurse With Wound list as a definite experimental list at all, as there are several kinds of genres of music within it. Some Italian prog, a little jazz, and the odd underwhelming LP. These lists provide a good point of reference but I don’t think they are axiomatic.
On one hand, we have the decentralizing influence of music discovery via Spotify and Bandcamp and file-sharing. People can fall into rabbit holes on their own. On the other hand, the glut of press coverage, festival culture, and reissue labels can lead to a certain homogeneity. What are your observations about these two elements — the balkanization from the ground up versus the streamlining at the upper levels? What are your observations about how the people around you are consuming music?
The only personal experience I have is that yes, we can be imprisoned by a genre search when looking at record stores online. I don’t tend to use Spotify, and I will only listen to Bandcamp if I am already searching for music by a particular band. The issue we have in the UK is that since John Peel died, we have no arbiter of underground music to guide us. Due to the fragmentation of sources, you have to search with more effort to find some guidance. There was a rather good article about this recently, and in fact [BBC disc jockey and son of John Peel] Tom Ravenscroft was mentioned, as he adheres less to the Radio 6 playlist. A lot of my peers tend to buy records, so we either find things online via places like Norman and Aquarius or let the random elements of crate-digging dictate what we will buy and hear next.
Which sources for music discovery that you turned to in your youth (zines, mail-order catalogues, college radio) do you still engage with now? What, if anything, are they doing more successfully than the usual new-media suspects, and how (if they have done so) are they falling behind?
I still listen to Late Junction on Radio 3 and buy the occasional magazine. The issue with a lot of press is it’s pretty much dictated by what is going to be coming out in the next month or so. Take the reissue market: some magazines will have front cover shots and large articles on whoever is doing the next box set. I rather enjoy Flashback Magazine, which covers more obscure psych and progressive artists and has quite comprehensive articles. None of the subject matter is driven by the market; it is written by someone who has great interest in that artist and a lot of pieces contain new information and not the usual regurgitated info.
Pick three newer artists you’d sneak into the Nurse With Wound list, even if it would mean removing some names that are already there.
Well, three bands I have enjoyed recently and who cover some of the aspects of the Nurse With Wound list are Opera Mort, Von Himmel, and Sewer Election.