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Under the Radar
One of the delights of 2016 for me was stumbling across Sonido Polifonico, a small independent “micro label” based only a few miles from my home in the fair city of Sheffield. My first interaction with the label came through a Facebook notification for a limited edition lathe cut 8” clear vinyl single, 'The Last Rays of Summer'/ 'Sanderlings' by Pefkin. I was intrigued to say the least but nothing prepared me for the whole beautiful package. The two ethereal recordings lovingly laid down on to clear vinyl that, when played, evoked a twilight landscape of gentle wonder and magic that just begged for repeat plays. The vinyl came encased in a fold out sleeve decorated with a photograph by Pefkin and a film negative, two badges, a section of map, a phial of Highland flora and a Sonido Polifonico clay token. All this was carefully protected by a hessian cloth and encased in a string tied box. Only 57 have been cut and all are individually numbered as well. It is an absolute work of art.
'Pefkin' is Gayle Brogan, formerly of Electroscope and sometimes the Kitchen Cynics. Her works are often drone like and spacey with a gentle psychedelic edge full of shadows and glimpses of other worlds.
The second release of 2016 found the legendary Wooden Wand recording two tunes 'Faraway Faultlines/Rockabye Kid' for the label. Complete with unique artwork , badges, stickers and ceramic token this release included a phial of “blue john” crystals and was limited to 77 lathe cut releases. James Toth puts in a haunting and captivating performance echoing Dylan and maybe a nod in the direction of Neil Young and totally in keeping with Sonido’s ethic. Toth’s hazy almost psychedelic country is entirely melancholic, minimal and convincing . The packaging is smaller and more compact than the Pefkin offering but somehow seems a natural setting for this release.
Almost as soon as Wooden Wand had finished weaving his spell a Facebook posting indicated that label founder Paul Cross had another intriguing trick up his sleeve. "Sheffield/Brooklyn?" What could he be planning?
So, Sonido Polifonico’s third release of the year turned out to be a magnificent and mysterious lathe cut 7” single on clear vinyl. 'Holding Collapse'/'Cut Them Out' is limited to 67 copies and is presented with a hand sewn hessian cover with a crow feather. The package also contains artist and label badges and stickers, random photographic inserts, a ceramic token and download code. It is another lovely work of art.
But what of the music you might ask? Hey Exit is Brooklyn-based Brendan Landis who produces some of the most inventive and atmospheric guitar instrumental/experimental music you will come across. 'Holding Collapse' is a finely-honed, almost meditative five minutes of layered instrumental guitar that is haunting yet somehow uplifting while the flip side (nice to be able to say that) 'Cut Them Out' is more ambitious. It is a distorted, slow drone composition, that is noise-orientated yet sublime and engaging with added vocal layer that gives you the sense of being alone in an abandoned Gothic Cathedral. This is a simple stunning offering by a prolific and inventive musician who would otherwise have been unheard of.
The whole presentation of the releases by Sonido Polifonico are tasteful and classy. Carefully and lovingly compiled, they are a breath of fresh air and a delight to own - True collectors items.
I was able to grab few words with the delightful Paul Cross of Sonido Polifonico.
KH: What inspired you to start your own label?
PC: I found some tapes from about 1985 lying around from my chronically underachieving band. They were very indie, black crewneck, jangly songs.
I’d been buying lathe cuts of weird artists from the USA and thought let’s give it a go and release this ancient stuff from St. Helens in a limited edition. The thing sold out overnight so I had to do a second cut. That went too!
That was supposed to be it.
Then I happened upon Pefkin at the Heretics' Folk Club run by Rob Lee. It was in a minute café in Sheffield but her performance and sound just blew me away. I just asked Gayle if she’d be up for doing a lathe single and that was it.
KH: How do you decide who you will release?
PC: It’s something I like. That’s it really. Jazz, drone, jangly...whatever. I worry my critical faculties are not up to scratch in general but you can’t worry about it. Go with the feeling.
I found Pefkin at a live gig.
I have seen James from Wooden Wand a few times and am just in awe of his lyrical abilities. Honestly, in years to come I think people will count him amongst the greats of the 21st Century.
I found Hey Exit on the internet, and can’t even remember how or why. Suffice to say, his mix of Satie’s 'Gymnopedie-1' drew me in. It is just sublime! https://soundcloud.com/hey-exit/every-recording-of-gymnopedie-1
Beyond that who knows? I’ve had a few bands send music across and I’m open to it. It hasn’t come to anything yet but you never know. There are a few local artists I’d really like to work with, but it’s a case of all the stars being aligned, I guess.
KH: Have you considered 12" or a cassette release ?
PC: I started thinking it’s 7 inches and that’s it.
Then Gayle blew that right out of the water. We ended up with a clear, square 8 inch single. Brilliant! It is weird but works really well.
I think I need to work with the musicians to do the best for them. Any format needed would be fine if we can make it beautiful.
KH: If you could choose what band past or present would you like to be in?
PC: Good God! I find it hard to get beyond the Velvets! Growing up to music near the Mersey in the 70's and 80's they were hard to escape. They kind of join all the dots between all the bands I love.
So deceptively simple and beautiful. You listen to their first LP and think, “I can do that,”...and then.
That 'Live 1969' recording is how it’s meant to be.
I wouldn’t have minded being in Love, the Magic Band, the Modern Lovers or the Pastels … there’s a lineage I guess!
I think in runs through to the Sonido releases. It does in my mind anyway.
KH: Thank you, Paul.
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In his new column 'Under the Radar', in which he will examining lesser known artists and labels, Keith How investigates Sonido Polifonico, a Sheffield micro label with a taste for the unusual and unknown
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