To create a place where you can lose yourself in the chaos
Amongst Bristol’s vital avant-garde scene there is a current impulse to reconcile aspects of the city’s soundsystem culture with the theatrical, performed nature of live guitar music. With the most famous example being Giant Swan, who create industrial techno using guitar pedals and looped vocals, this has produced an extraordinary new wave of genre-traversing projects.
The latest of these is SCALPING: an audio-visual EBM group who – through the medium of a semi-traditional guitar band – create muscular, cerebral techno drawing from punk, post-rock and industrial music. Comprising James Rushforth (bass), Isaac Jones (drums), Jamie Thomas (guitar) and Alex Hill (electronics), the band has risen to attention principally through their stunning, heavily-improvised performances; these employ a large projection screen, on which visual artist Jason Baker throws striking live animations replete with grotesques, sci-fi imagery and shock-humour.
Since stumbling upon their first gig, I have been convinced of SCALPING’s destiny as the city’s next breakthrough act, appropriating them as standard-bearers for my publication The Bristol Germ and holding some of their first shows. This year I was proved right, with tours around their debut EP CHAMBER (out on Council Records) making them one of 2019’s hottest new bands. I reunited with the group in Bristol to reflect on how this remarkable project came into being.
Part of the impetus, Rushforth explains, was “a frustration with seeing non-live elements in a lot of electronic music”. Sharing backgrounds in guitar projects, the members’ exposure to Bristol’s electronic scene inspired them to “find ways of reverse-engineering those sounds, and applying them to a band”.
“It’s a marriage of the things we enjoy most about both worlds,” Thomas adds. Rather than trade in the instruments they had learned in order to pursue electronic music, it proved “more interesting to adapt what we already know”.
“What’s weird,” Baker remarks, “is everything that’s brilliant about this seems obvious in hindsight.” The spectacle of dance music with live drums is, in itself, undeniable.