Regular visitors to these pages will know of my fondness for Vienna Ditto, whose spellbinding amalgams of surf rock, gospel, jazz, electronica and techno were a near permanent feature of our site until they split last year.
One half of the duo, Nigel Ali-Firth, recently released his latest collection of tunes under his solo moniker The May. Abbey Road Live is a trio of tracks recorded at Abbey Road Studios (no, not that one – Abbey Road Studios, Abbey Road, Oxford). He describes their sound as ‘ramshackle scrap-book techno’, and the curious delights within are created from snippets of ambient sound recorded whilst wandering around his home city, weird noises and snippets of conversation, melded with sounds from a bunch of antiquated equipment he claims still not to understand despite using it for about fifteen years.
We asked Nigel to give us a track by track guide to the EP.
I’ve been obsessed with electronic speech and things that sound like voices over the past couple of years and have been trying to write instrumental tunes that use them. There’s a lot of me going oogy-woogy-woogy into vocoders and doing acid house hi-hats with my mouth… I’ve fallen under the modular synthesiser curse that has so many other middle-aged hipsters spellbound (fortunately it prevents us from releasing very much music as we spend all our time dicking around with cables), but this one slipped out regardless. I do find it fascinating and scary to hear my modular rig croak at me in various primal voices. I wonder if it’s like that when you have a baby.
The name comes from the idea of looking down a microscope and seeing a tiny little techno party down there, full of bug-eyed nematodes and single-cell ravers having it large. I hope to play this tune at one of those parties some time (maybe with speakers in my coffin so the party’s inside my own mortal remains) as I feel it would be an apt soundtrack.
I wrote the words for this at the first Extinction Rebellion do in London; it was kind of intended to be like those protest chants one hears on such occasions. The version that I’ve released is a heavily redacted version; when I play it live it has a couple of samples in it that I couldn’t clear, which was annoying as they really had a huge influence on me when making it.
The first is Mahua Moitra’s maiden speech to the Lok Sabha (India’s parliament). To call it ‘fiery’ would be like calling the Great Fire of London a not-very-big fire. Shouting to be heard over the heckling of NDA lawmakers, she tears into Modi’s nationalist policies and suppression of dissent, pointing out that each of the 7 Signs of Early Fascism the US Holocaust Memorial Museum warned about are prevalent in India under the BJP. What really got me about this that she could be talking about the UK.
I’m now rather aware that I’ve mainly written about something that isn’t in the song, which is a fairly left-field reviewing method. It does outline the general vibe, but maybe just listen to the speech instead, it’s way better than my silly music.
Name Five Things
I stole this from the children’s sensory game – name five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste. I like it because it involves counting and that always sounds good in songs; this is even better as it involves counting backwards and that makes me think of space rockets and Thunderbirds.
There’s a whole bunch of kids’ voices I’ve sampled in this one; I particularly like the one who keeps going on about biscuits. I was trying to get him to practice guitar and he held me to ransom saying he’d only do it if I gave him biscuits, recorded him ranting about said biscuits and put it in a song. Fortunately he sounded fantastic.
On the guitar, less so.
Abbey Road Live is out now – download via Bandcamp
Follow The May on Instagram
Introduction by Paul Maps