Until the end of January there’s a discount code running on the Sloth Racket Bandcamp site. 20% off everything when you enter ‘sloths_indoors’ at the checkout…take a dive into the merch box!
This post is about a project I’m just starting. It’s not something public, so there’s no music to listen to, videos to check out or livestream to tune into. But it’s my current focus during these winter months, so I’m documenting it here and may write some updates as the project goes on. This weekend Sloth Racket will hold our second of five sessions in ‘a room inside the internet’!
When the pandemic scuppered our plans for a 2020 tour, I needed to find something that would keep us playing together and create some paid work to replace live shows. Arts Council England re-opened their Project Grants programme in July, with an altered focus to take into account the challenging conditions artists (along with the entire world) are now operating in, and I began to think about how I could put together a funding application to support us to make work, even without any touring.
Over the summer I had been lucky enough to take part in online group jams as part the testing of Noise Orchestra’s ongoing R&D project. This involved ad-hoc bands of up to six improvisers, playing together over the internet using some software called JackTrip. Noise Orchestra (David Birchall and Vicky Clarke) were working towards what is now their Autonomous Noise Unit system, where players can use a simple plug-and-play device to connect to a hubserver and jam in real-time with other people also connected. JackTrip has amazing audio quality and incredibly low latency, meaning that the experience is pretty close to playing with someone in the next room in a studio, for example. Tom Ward worked on the server-side development of the ANU project, so I heard a lot about it as it developed – and it became clear that JackTrip could be the tool we needed to safely collaborate as a band during the pandemic.
I applied for a Project Grant to support a five month development period with Sloth Racket, made up of writing time for me to compose new material, and five remote band sessions – one every month from November 2020 to March 2021. ‘A Room Inside the Internet’ – a phrase used by Dave Birchall to describe JackTrip – became the project name. It was strange to write a grant application where no artists would actually meet each other, where the only in-person public engagement was in a speculative post-pandemic future, and where there was no income from other sources at all (not even any door gigs!). Noise Orchestra agreed to be a partner and provide some ANU for band members who couldn’t connect with their existing home setups, and Tom came on board to set us up our own ‘sloth server’ – the virtual rehearsal room. Our alto player Sam Andreae, who is also part of Noise Orchestra’s project, agreed to do the ANU setup.
Despite the remote-working aspect and pandemic context, the project was very appealing to me as it would focus exclusively on creating and developing new material for a block of time, without any of the other work involved in being a band, like booking tours or preparing releases. I actually like doing that work and it’s a huge part of being an artist, but it can also kill creativity and take over my headspace. In a weird dark way, the impossibility of booking live shows was a chance to step off that treadmill. I put the application in and hoped for the best.
After only four weeks, I got the decision email and was pretty ecstatic to see that the Arts Council were offering me the full amount I applied for. Since then I’ve been working on new material, and we played online for the first time in November. It’s totally different from rehearsing in person, but SO good to play together again. And we have four more sessions to try out the new music I create in the writing time. The funding has allowed us to take time for experimentation with no pressure of a performance endpoint, no studio date looming on the horizon. (Although, of course, I’d love to book both a studio date and some touring as soon as possible after the project finishes.)
The Project Grants scheme in its current guise (until March 2021) does not require the usual 10% minimum income from other sources, or the sort of public engagement that was previously expected. It’s quite similar to their Developing Your Creative Practice funding, in that during this exceptional time the Arts Council are encouraging applications that focus on R&D: basically, time to think and work on stuff – in preparation for taking our new work out there into a future where live music as we know it is happening again. If you’re an artist (working in England), maybe you knew this already. But if you didn’t, and if you have some development type work that could use funding support, it would be worth reading the Projects Grant guidance.
Noise Orchestra have now launched a website for their ANU system – worth checking out if you’re interested to read more about what they do. They have hooked up jams involving musicians from all around the UK and further afield, including live broadcasts for the Manchester concert series Curious Ear. Online collaboration is not like playing together in a room, in person. It’s something else. But I’ve found over the past few months that in its own way, it does have a good go at scratching the itch. And for bands who might find it difficult/impossible/undesirable to meet in person during the pandemic, it’s a fantastic way to keep making music together.
As part of our last session in March 2021 (closer than it sounds), there will be a live ‘open rehearsal’ broadcast; you’ll be able to tune in and hear us playing the new music from our five different locations. I’ll post the details here when I have them…
A new Sloth Racket live album is released today on Luminous! Obviously 2020 hasn’t quite gone as we’d planned, and so instead of touring this year we are putting out this lovely recording from our 2019 tour.
It’s the full set from our gig at Arco Barco in Ramsgate, hosted by our friends Extra Normal Records. This was a really great night at a brilliant quirky seafront venue (accessed via a ladder!), where we shared the bill with Evan Parker playing a solo set. Anton Hunter was on recording duties and Alex Bonney has mixed it for this special live release.
The album is a digital-only release, our first one ever and mainly to keep costs down during these ‘times’. However, I had always planned to do new Sloth Racket shirts in 2020, and even with no tour I’ve gone ahead and got them made. There are three colours to choose from and a brand new scribbly logo design. The shirts are organic cotton, printed with eco-friendly inks by I Dress Myself in Frome. I’m really happy with how they came out – they are really soft and the print quality is excellent. The mockup image below shows the colours – head to the Bandcamp page for a size guide.
Last month I was invited by my friend the artist Mio Ebisu to take part in her exhibition ‘Deep Autumn: how does my neighbour live, I wonder?’. Taking its title from a haiku, this was a group show organised by Mio at SET Lewisham over the weekend of 24/25 October, where artists presented something from their experience of lockdown.
I have been sharing a studio at SET with Mio, Sam Andreae, Tom Ward and Hannah Marshall this year; the exhibition included work from everyone in the studio group plus Otto Willberg. There were paintings, text, sounds, drawings, seeds, photographs and a DIY table tennis table – all insights, sometimes quite personal, into how people have been getting through 2020 so far.
I decided to bring photographs of the percussion instruments I made out of items from the recycling bin, and I ended up drawing all over the wall around the pictures too (which was fun, but meant there was a lot of cleanup at the end).
This was the first time I’d taken part in an exhibition and it was a very interesting and enjoyable thing to do. We were lucky to be able to put it on, too, as the SET public programme has now closed again as England goes into its second lockdown. We all agreed it would be great to do another one in the new year though, and I’ll keep this blog updated on that. Who knows what the next lockdown will bring that we can share when it’s possible to do so?
***NB: These are just some photos I took on my phone, and they don’t cover everything that was in the room – when better documentation of the show appears I will link to it from this post!
Martin Clarke’s label oem Records has released a set by Dee Byrne, Craig Scott and me today, recorded a BRåKFest in February this year. It was the first time the trio had played together – and so far, the only time, as that gig turned out to be one of the last ones before the coronavirus lockdown struck. It was an enjoyable combination though, and one we hope to repeat! Check out the album on the oem Bandcamp site:
Imaginary Junction, the upcoming quartet album that I am a part of with Tom Ward, Martina Verhoeven and Dirk Serries, is now available to pre-order from Dirk’s label A New Wave Of Jazz. You can reserve your copy now either through the label’s own site, or on their Bandcamp site. There’s also a four CD pre-order offer on both sites for those who want to get stuck into even more new music from the label….
Disembark! is out today on Luminous. It’s the first duo release from Dee Byrne and me – I’m so happy to see it out there after the release (and a tour that was supposed to happen earlier this year) got derailed by the pandemic. It’s available now as a digital album, the thirteenth release on the label, with amazing cover artwork by Dee. I hope you enjoy the music! And keep an eye on Luminous over the course of this Autumn, as we have a few more things up our sleeves….
This week The Noise Upstairs are screening the latest edition of their lockdown video series ‘The Noise Indoors’ – curated by me! I invited four really great artists to record a set for it: Tullis Rennie, Rachel Musson, Sophie Cooper and Sam Andreae. The episode premieres at 8pm on Thursday 17th September from the link below….join us! And it will be available to watch again, along with the rest of the series, after the screening.
Dirk Serries has published an excerpt of an upcoming release that I’m a part of: a quartet recording with Dirk, Martina Verhoeven and Tom Ward. We recorded this in July from our homes, over the internet using JackTrip; Dirk and Martina near Antwerp in Belgium, Tom and I in London. Everyone was so happy with the results that Dirk suggested releasing it on his label! The album is out in October as part of a set of four new CDs on A New Wave Of Jazz. Have a listen…
It’s worth noting that Dirk’s label has left social media and launched a fresh news page on its website. So check back in with the site to keep up with new releases. You can also sign up to the label mailing list to get the lowdown sent straight to your inbox.
Some really excellent news to announce today! I have been selected as one of the artists for the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//) COVID-19 Commissions. The commissions are the festival’s response to the pandemic, offering artists some paid work now when things are pretty bleak for live performance. I’ll be writing a new piece for trio, to be performed at hcmf// at a later date. With my 2020 year planner in the recycling bin due to loads of future work being cancelled or postponed indefinitely, this is really brilliant news and I feel very lucky to have been chosen. I’ll be writing about the project on the blog as it develops.
In other news, there’s a new merch item up on the Sloth Racket site for tomorrow’s Bandcamp Friday and it’s something quite special. For many years, our bass player Seth has been collecting people’s verbal reactions to his double bass (usually when they see him on public transport or walking down the street) using the hashtag #doublebasscomments. Sloths guitarist Anton recently decided that this needed to be taken to a whole different level, and asked the brilliant artist and friend of Sloth Racket Angela Guyton to make a cartoon of some of the comments. The resulting A2 POSTER is now on sale!! Edition of 20, so grab one quick for the bassist in your life…