VA – Dusty Curtain Face Sampler (various styles)

Dusty Curtain Face Records DCF-001, 2011, CD album, 73m 8s, £?

Dusty Curtain Face Records are about as DIY and low key as a label can be, based on their founder/ producer/ engineer Paul Rhodes’ realisation that he could use some cheap, semi-functional equipment in bands’ rehearsal spaces to make better recordings than often come out of major commercial studios. You see, the big studios want you to think there’s some kind of voodoo to the recording process, which to be fair there is, and I wouldn’t deny the enormous expertise that exists in the world of the professional engineer: but the voodoo is not in the highly tuned ears of the mixing and mastering engineers. It’s in an appreciation of the creative intentions of the musicians, and in the key understanding that a recording is constructed, not captured: every artist understands that they need to work creatively with the materials at hand, and it’s the same with recording. A recording is built from the sounds your equipment can commit to hard disk, and if those sounds include hiss, hum or other artifacts you can still make good use of them.

Not that these recordings are at all noisy or low-fi; but using cheap equipment in untreated spaces predetermines the sound in particular ways, and Rhodes’ response is to let his bands do their thing in their usual way, and focus the entire production around the music’s specific creative agendas. These are the right sounds for these acts, and they would be very lucky indeed to get better results by throwing money at the problem.

The only band that could benefit from a different approach is Cuckoo Hill, whose acoustic guitars have the distinctive sound of amplified piezo-electric pickups, which while pleasant enough, will never hold a candle to the instruments’ acoustic voices. The performance is beautifully conveyed however, with a mellow, relaxed vibe and a warm vocal sound: there’s more of a trick to this than you might imagine, as few musicians play with the same freedom under the studio microscope as they do live, and the way they and Rhodes nail it is exceptional.

The same goes for every track on the sampler: some cuts have a bit of recording hiss, but rather than topping and tailing it Rhodes has left it in the mix, framing tracks like Ed Ache’s ‘Phone Box’ with white noise that stands in for the silence into which the performance is dropped. Every performance is natural, relaxed and committed.

The actual material is incredibly varied, with seventeen tracks from seven artists, ranging from Cuckoo Hill and Tough Lover’s acoustic folk, through Ed Ache’s acoustic punk, to Rhodes’ own Hobopope And The Goldfish Cathedral’s pronk, via Meadows’ sludge metal and hardcore, Cockdaughter’s post-rock or noise rock, and Lemonparty’s utterly unique perverted funk rock. Every act has a distinct and well defined artistic vision and pursues it creatively: this is very much local music, the product of a small scene in a specific area, but this sampler is an example of just how much creativity and expertise goes under the radar, and all of these musicians deserve wider exposure and recognition.

Naturally there are some stand out tracks: Ed Ache’s unremittingly grim murder tale ‘Spooky Woods’ really sticks with me, as does the curiously catchy atonality of Cockdaughter’s ‘Pig Tipper’, and the sordid sexuality of Lemonparty’s ‘Zoo Sex’. There’s no filler, though, no tracks I want to skip: this is a properly satisfying listening record from the opening blast of Meadows’ ‘The Head Of Henry Grey’ to the final confrontational valediction of Ed Ache’s ‘Goodbye’, of which I’ll leave you with a sample:

‘All right then boys, I’m off/ suffice to say I’ve had enough/ I’ve had a proper think about it/ I think that you’re all cunts/ I’d like to say that it’s been fun/ but I’d be telling lies/ life’s a bitch and then you say goodbye.’

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