Prior to diving into this review, it should be known that this write-up derives itself from a Midwestern United States noise paradigm. So before reviewing the enigmatic and very English Banister to the Throne Room, it seemed prudent to see if the man behind the album would offer his personal thoughts on the record and the greater world of noise culture–an insider context for this vocal-less power electronics endeavor to complement the outsider perspective. Much of this review comes out of that conversation.
The overarching concept that bridged these two realities is the idea that noise is pure freedom. Noise isn’t a realm with defined termini or forced approaches. Hanatarash used a bulldozer, Nummy uses pom-poms, and an act in a Dayton, Ohio basement once rubbed two pieces of sandpaper together for an hour unstopping while the act following her utilized more pedals than Planning for Burial. In terms of meaning, noise can be religious, misanthropic, emotional, heartless, nihilistic (an unintentional or implied meaning), any myriad of other adjectives, or devoid of meaning altogether. Pure freedom means pure expression. Noise is bereft of inherent structure and semantic definition, but due to this blank canvas, it’s open for any definition to be represented therein. Each session becomes the raw output of the musician, data indecipherable by any human other than its creator. So who is to decide what noise as a genre is supposed to be? Hopefully not music forums or noise review authors. There may be definitions of what noise needs to be much as there is discussion of what black metal needs to be, but at the point of segregation, noise becomes too academic and loses the visceral power it seeks to release.
To the Lovers, Farewell, the artist behind Banister to the Throne Room, has an idea what noise needs to be in his work. To the Lovers, Farewell is the operator of Red Venice Records based in South Wales, writes about power electronics in Noise Muzak Review, and has released over thirty albums since 2010 ranging from mutilated, sample-ridden breakcore/dance to (more recently) virulent vocal-entrenched power electronics. First impressions yield his work as run-of-the-mill noise freakishness with the expected edgy album art and wholly uncensored themes. This may not seem too strange in the naughty world of power electronics, but To the Lovers, Farewell has seemed to “break rules” set even within the noise community. According to Last.fm, he is currently “banned from gigging in the UK due to his political leanings to the far right.” When asked about this strange bio, he stated that it isn’t completely true. In recent years, he has merely run into a lack of promoters (and gigs) that fit the taste of his act. He went even further in stating that experimental music in the UK lacks any worth other than a few acts like CloseMindedGirl, Siege Electronics and himself. To the Lovers, Farewell dismissed the rest of the country as hipsters who value “art” and “dada” over raw emotion. He seemed noticeably frustrated when discussing people who have done little than make UK noise more than a secret club of sorts.
On the subject of politics, the artist said that he has his beliefs and his right to express them through his work. He has attempted to bring English noise artists together into a network, but a combination of his political views and the isolated nature of the UK experimental scene has left him repeatedly stopping his To the Lovers, Farewell project. While the glut of records he releases and reviews he writes is evidence of his love to create, it seems for now that he is doomed to the pits of exclusion even among the excluded.
In a less personal sense, but still deeply connected to the mad sonic-puppeteer, To the Lovers, Farewell is an act that is in the same vein of power electronics as Whitehouse. Distancing himself from the current P.E. model of “japanoise with vocals”, he seeks the route of Ulex Kane of Streicher who uses only a microphone during live sets. It seems politically charged P.E. looks to be on the horizon for the Red Venice Welshman, with the guiding thoughts of Sutcliffe Jugend, Whitehouse, Consumer Electronics, and Alvin Lucier alongside it.
Yet, despite this high talk of vocal-heavy and nationalist-themed noise, Banister to the Throne Room exhibits neither in To the Lovers, Farewell’s first release on Obfuscated Records. Defending this move, he stated that this album was the first which meets his criteria for what noise needs to be: streams of laptop driven arpeggiated synths rolling along at high BPM, tweaked into a slow and furious wall. Self-described as stomping on the concept of pedal-noise and circuit bending, the album sounds like a digital storm of zipping, chaotic, grinding bits; screeching and chirping electronics over a sea of garbled and gurgling angry mid-range notes. To put this into a mental image, it’s the equivalent of overlaying every phaser blast in Star Trek with the sound of a dial-up modem and running that through an audio cheese grater. In terms of meaning, this album exhibits (of all things imaginable) themes of romance, rather distant the expected right-wing tropes. The very name of the act seems poetic in origin, yet almost ironic when it authors songs like “I had to Cut my Dick Off to Sell Records”. While harsh noise and power electronics are notoriously misogynistic and hateful, the titles of the latter half of Banister… hearken back to the words of a forlorn suitor—the likes of which could be found in a smooth jazz chorus or something equally ridiculous. To the Lovers, Farewell admitted that he toys with the concept of love, but expressed his interest in exploring “its pretentious nature and the concept of absolute committal to your perfect other at the expense of yourself.” Self-harming, repentant, desperate; Banister… presents a cat-o-nine-tails for tragic romantic flagellation.
It isn’t surprising that so many strange and unique qualities make up this monolith. Previous releases have felt the flame of techno, breakcore, field recordings, electro-acoustics, and free jazz. Visuals have ranged from minimal-techno flavored geometric album covers to manipulated porno stills, gore and sacrilegious photoshops to soulful or symbolic snapshots. Banister to the Throne Room doesn’t give quite the same question mark in its album-art appearance. On the cover lays a burning figure clouded in a blaze of intense red and black contrast; appropriate, finally, for the audio within. The graphic stands out among the monochrome imagery of the Obfuscated distro with emotional, mutilated fury.
Yet for such a strange album, it could be boring for anyone who has found earlier To the Lovers, Farewell material interesting. Gone are the vocals, samples, remixed sound bites, and “mathcore”. Everything is replaced by the squelch of the machine. Despite this, the album remains surprisingly mortal. Whereas 528hz GenderShift Expansion Pack speaks in simple, monotonal directness, Banister… ushers in an overwhelming sense of dread and pain; null pointer exceptions on the human heart. To the Lovers, Farewell defines what noise needs to be without draining the core of its essence. An outsider may see this record as nonsensical electro-jabbering from a UK xenophobe, but within the demon mechanism is a surprisingly emotional P.E. album; wearisome maybe, disappointing perhaps, but not in the least bit mundane.
01) Bleed Out
02) Live Aktions
03) 32 Year Old Options
04) And Forever After
05) I will Wait for you there
06) Just Call me, Let’s Straighten this Out
07) Never Thought it could be this Way