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Rhemp - Circuit Bent Copa

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Adam Walton Adam Walton | 10:55 UK time, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Anglesey's Johnny R is about as close as music in North Wales has to an out-and-out iconoclast.

His defunct record label, R-Bennig, was a situationist dismantling and reassembly of any preconceptions you might have about music-making. Generally, if no one else in the vicinity was doing it, then Johnny would give it a go. He fed off and reacted against his contemporaries' relative conservatism. And, at a time when most labels had the luxury of being able to indulge themselves in an interminably long gestation period for an album -- the gap between its writing and hitting the shelves frequently taking months -- R-Bennig revelled in the now. Tracks recorded that morning would be available the following day, and this before the age of immediacy brought about by the internet.

The label eschewed the Welsh media: stories are legion amongst the country's radio presenters and journalists of Johnny's vituperative dislike of them. It was an attitude that was proper old school punk rock. But Johnny's true inspiration was in the white labels, dancehalls and community spirit of Northern Soul. Northern Soul records didn't get airplay. In fact, airplay would have polluted their specialness. The music was there to be celebrated by the select few on the well-sprung dancefloor.

After over 20 years of idiosyncratic releases that veered from popular dance tunes to avant garde oddments and featured occasional moments of originality and true excellence amongst some baffling nonsense, R-Bennig stopped. Johnny decided, instead, to concentrate on film-making.

His Budgie Blue Baby Pink film company was a continuation of the R-Bennig ethos: an irreverent and playful destruction of genre norms whilst triumphing local talent.

Technology has been a recurrent influence on Johnny's record label and film company. What we'd regard now as old school sequencers, synths and drum machines were part of R-Bennig's armoury well before it became kitsch and cool to dig them out the loft. And, I imagine, that key to Johnny being able to make his films was the availability of cheaper handicams and editing software.

So, it's no surprise that this fascination with technology shapes a new album from Johnny's latest label incarnation, post R-Bennig records.

Rhemp's Circuit Bent Copa is the sound of Johnny ripping apart old instruments and twisting the very circuitry hidden within to make far stranger sounds than the instrument's inventor ever intended.

Circuit bending is a recognised way of recycling contemporary music out of technology that would otherwise end up in landfill: kids toys, defunct 80's keyboards and the like.

All you need is a soldering iron, the requisite knowledge to not electrocute yourself, and an unbound musical imagination.

Johnny certainly has the latter.

This is the strangest recorded artefact I have heard come out of North Wales this year. Sometimes the instruments being abused do sound like they're screaming for mercy, or a powercut. But there are also moments of great ingenuity and originality.

He won't appreciate me saying it: but I'm glad that Johnny's back engaging that obstreperous imagination with things musical, and I think that if you want to hear something different and very 2009, then this album is well worth your attention.



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