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.
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…
Tonight on BCC Radio 3 at midnight, the first episode of a brand new improvised music programme called ‘Freeness’ will be broadcast. It’s presented by my good friend and formidable improviser, writer (of music and text) and organiser Corey Mwamba. This is pretty exciting!
Sloth Racket’s ‘We Decide What’s Next’ will be played on the show, along with me talking about the track. Constructing coherent sentences about my own work was harder than I expected, but I’m sure whatever I said has been edited into something that makes sense and it’s an honour to be part of the first episode.
With the axing and reducing of various programmes over the past few years, this feels like a really positive step by the BBC and I hope it’s the beginning of a new era of improvised music on the radio.
There’s an open call for submissions too: Corey and the Reduced Listening team who make the show have created an email address where artists can send in their music, so if you have some tracks you reckon would fit and you’d like played, send them over to freeness @ reducedlistening.co.uk.
I’m looking forward to tuning in and discovering some new music!
The new Sloth Racket album is released today! You can now stream the whole album on Bandcamp, and order CDs and zines to be shipped straight away. Check it out!
You can pre-order your copy of the fourth Sloth Racket album ‘Dismantle Yourself’ today from Luminous! I’m so happy with how this album album sounds and it’s great to get it out there…
As well as the CD edition with hand-printed sleeve, for this release I’ve created a companion zine to go with the album. The 20-page, A6 zines were printed by Footprint Workers Co-operative in Leeds with bright blue ink on recycled paper. The words and graphics inside came out of my process of going through the studio sessions to pick the final album tracks and give them titles: my listening notes always include these things, and this time I decided to work on them a bit to make finished pieces of writing. When laying out the text for the zine pages I incorporated graphics similar to the ones in my scores for Sloth Racket and Favourite Animals compositions.
The CD sleeves come in five different colour inks – randomly selected when I ship albums, or you can take your pick when buying from the merch table.
It’s in the album thanks list, but I should say here once again how grateful I am for the support of the Fenton Arts Trust and the Oppenheim-John Downes Memorial Trust. I was able to get grants from them to support the album recording: a two-day session in February at The Chairworks studio in Yorkshire. After three albums made in single day sessions, the aim was to have more time to work on the music in the relaxed setting of a residential studio. With more time for experimentation, the focus of the recording was the exploration and development of the new material, collectively improvising the composed starting points into finished pieces. Of course, all that will be straight out of the window as soon as we set off on tour in September and get our teeth into the music on the road!
Sloth Racket is hitting the road this Autumn and releasing a new album! After a huge amount of work and multiple grant applications, I’m incredibly happy to announce this run of nine live dates around the UK. Touring is where we can really get into the music, and I can’t wait to get stuck in. I love playing with this band! Check the flyer below for all the dates, and you can find all the info about venues, who will be sharing the bill with us, how you can buy tickets and everything else tour-related at slothracket.co.uk/tour.
The new album ‘Dismantle Yourself’ will be available to pre-order from Luminous on 12th August, and is released on 2nd September. I’ll post here when pre-orders are up too.
See you somewhere out there in September!The tour is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Sloth Racket is sharing the bill with Dee Byrne’s excellent band Entropi for the first time on Wednesday 13th March, for a special LUME double bill concert at Kings Place. LUME has been taking some time off since our second festival in summer 2017, so it will be great to host our first event in a while at a totally new venue for us.
The second video from our Vortex gig in September last year: another audience-eye view, and this time it’s ‘A Glorious Monster’. I made this one black and white and I’m kind of into it!