Launched as a label in June 2013, Stars, Dots, and the New Junk have released several albums of sonic disturbance and aural delight that are also material objects of distinctively bespoke beauty. My connections to the shadowy figures that produce these albums run deeper than the usual associative threads that make us all interconnected in a global network of fame and famine, helipads and homelessness. So this is not a review, although Stars, Dots, and the New Junk deserve reviewing. This is also not a press release. I am not here to try and sell you something (all words want to sell you something). I just want to provide a port of entry into a labyrinthine interzone where the pulsating fantasies and fuck-ups of everyday life get precariously fused into music and art. So sit back and let me tell you about a man named Frank.
Several years ago I went to an exhibition of found photographs curated by the reclusive artist Frank Yonco in the subterranean bunker of the Notting Hill Arts Club. The exhibition was only on for one night during which a series of DJs and bands cranked out tired takes on love and hate and boredom. Like the musicians, the crowd also adopted a familiar range of jaded poses, exchanging micromanaged displays of sexual distraction and existential exhaustion in between sips of overpriced Japanese beer. Paradoxically, the people in the pre-digital photographs seemed far more alive, more actively present in the improvised spontaneity of their gone world, than those West London clubbers rehearsing their roles as the beautiful and the damned for a present yet to come. So it was no surprise that most of the music failed to match the raw power and emotional depth of the everyday images sequenced and subtly modified by Yonco on the whitewashed concrete walls.
Several years later, I'm happy to report that Yonco has been coaxed back into the burnt orange limelight by the good people at Sidecartel for a far more fruitful collaboration, this time with Stars, Dots, and the New Junk. So what is Stars, Dots, and the New Junk? The first release on the label is Guidance From The Master by Osmiroid,featuring a six-track CD, plus a haunting and hallucinatory film and miscellaneous 'Bipolaroids' on DVD, all intriguingly assembled with assorted inserts into a circular tin box and released on the 23 June in an edition of 23. On the same day the label also released The Beast of Osmiroid, a download-only compilation of Osmiroid tracks, and Tired Eyes, Fragmenting Skull, billed as the debut solo album from Osmiroid member and sometime Mordant Music collaborator Commodore Meniscus. The latter album was also released as a limited edition of 23, this time in the classic cassette format so beloved by urban hipsters and mixtape romantics.
Given a copy of Tired Eyes, Fragmenting Skull, Yonco was asked to interpret the music in paint. The result is the 'Weismuller' edition of the album. Apparently, the music inspired Yonco to paint a portrait of his favourite Tarzan, former Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weismuller. Just why Yonco was prompted into thinking of the vine-swinging crocodile-wrestling Jane-stroking jungle-yodeller is a mystery. Given the perverse sense of the tragicomic that pervades Yonco's work, I asked myself if he was deliberately channelling the wrong Burroughs? Surely it should have been William not Edgar Rice?
For a start, there's that name: stars, dots, and the new junk. The influence of WSB can also be mapped via the label's recurring obsession with the number 23. On 23 July the label put out their fourth release, We Have Your Images by HD, a radio collage that pays homage to the radical theories behind the cut-up technique, slicing into what Burroughs called 'the mutter line of the mass media' to produce counter-narratives that interrupt the dominant versions of history. This album was also released in a limited edition of 23 cassettes (as a cheeky aside, evidenced on their labels, the C90 cassettes were once the property of the Crown Court). Available for free, the cassettes came in four different dayglo covers designed to prompt memories of the neon-coloured bootleg tapes that used to light up grey days in Camden Market back in the 1980s and 1990s. The bootleg theme is followed through on the flipside of the cassette which comprises several rough recordings of previously unreleased material associated with the ultra-elusive musical collective known as Fol. Two more releases by other nebulous outfits are scheduled for 23 August. As with Mordant Music, Stars, Dots, and the New Junk is not so much based on a common sound as on a loose affiliation of fellow travellers circling around a shared understanding of the need to participate in something other than the something else that already is . . .
By collaborating with Yonco, Stars, Dots, and the New Junk reveal their willingness to revel in the comically cosmic absurdity that is as much a Yonco hallmark as his infamously fragile grip on reality. After completing his colourful portrait of Tarzan, Yonco cut his painting into six equal parts. These parts were then stamped and numbered and inserted into the covers of six cassettes of Tired Eyes, Fragmenting Skull. Rather than the limited lifespan of the exhibition in Notting Hill Arts Club, the presence of six fragments of an original Yonco artwork emphasizes another kind of fragility to file alongside those momentary snapshots of mortality. It's a variation on the theme of six degrees of separation, where six cassettes make their way into the future along precarious pathways that criss-cross to greater or lesser degrees with each of our own deviating trajectories. Will the tired eyes and fragmenting skull of Tarzan ever be completely reassembled? Or will the fragments be lost forever in the widening gyres of a cultural maelstrom in which everything from stars to the dot below the question mark at the end of this sentence has become the new junk?
March sees a greatly expanded reissue of Elliott Smith's most critically acclaimed album Either/Or
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