Poster design by Pearly Sandman. Click here for tickets
Poster design by Pearly Sandman. Click here for tickets
Only recently, we warned you that young people in their hordes are dabbling in the Dark Arts. Here’s more evidence to support that claim. Occult Hand are Isablood and Henry, two horror film obsessives whose ectoplasm-drenched music incorporates elements of noise, found sound and improvisation. They may well be Brighton’s most exciting new outfit but that doesn’t excuse their blatant disregard for all that is good and proper. Or perhaps it does. We’re still mulling it over, actually. In any case, we collared the pair for a chat and invited them to put together a mixtape. Better the devil you know. Read on…
Hello Occult Hand. Please provide some information about the mix you’ve put together for The Outer Church.
1. Zardoz Opening Music Main Titles
Henry: “From John Boorman’s 70s sci-fi ‘flop’ Zardoz, starring Sean Connery running around in a mankini. I really love this movie though it took me several aborted attempts to watch and fully appreciate it. The musical theme running throughout it is based on the second movement from Beethoven’s 7th. A great version which sadly has never been available on a soundtrack or anywhere else. I would have put the original on but it was about nine minutes and you just can’t cut that shit up.”
2. Asei Kobayashi & Micky Yoshino - Eat Eat Eat (Hausu)
Henry: “This is from the Hausu soundtrack. Fantastic movie, the soundtrack needs a reissue!”
Isablood: “I chose this because Hausu is probably my favourite film in the entire world.”
3. Shopping - In Other Words
Isablood: “Shopping are my friends Billy, Andrew and Rachel. They kind of remind me of the brilliant post-punk band Devil’s Dykes. They’ve only been around for a few months and this song is just amazing. It’s coming out as a 7” in a few weeks.”
4. Emerson Quartet - Bartok: String Quartet #3, 1. Prima Parte
Henry: “From Hungarian composer Bela Bartok’s incredible string quartets, of which there are six, this is the first movement of the third. Recently my brother and I went to see the Emerson Quartet play this, along with pieces by Alban Berg and Janacek. It was amazing. Some of the most morose music I have heard. Real cut your throat stuff.”
5. Harumi - Fire By The River
Isablood: “I don’t know much about Harumi. This record is from 1968, psychedelic Japanese stuff, it’s just enchanting.”
6. Pulsalamma - The Devil Lives In My Husbands Body
Henry: “Horrors of suburban life? You can almost dance to this.”
Isablood: “This song is SO GOOD!!!! You can DEFINITELY dance to it!!!! The lyrics are so funny, it was a toss up between this and Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat”
7. Hex On The Beach - Fire Mountain II
Isablood: “Hex On The Beach are from Australia, esoteric witchy catchy doomy gloomy. They did a cover of that Lady In The Radiator song In Heaven [from David Lynch’s Eraserhead] when I saw them last summer. I’ve always enjoyed the musical outputs of Maya - she was in Leopard Leg who were bloody fantastic [Agreed - OC], the Polly Shang Kuan Band and this brilliant band I played with once called Universal Orders, who did maybe 2 shows before splitting up. They were really special.”
8. Internet Club - Wave Temple
Henry: “I am wondering what people make of this Vapourwave stuff. While the name may sound a naff fad like Witch House or Chillwave, there is still something about this music I find really interesting. There are countless blogs where you can download this stuff - predominately digital releases only - for free. It’s a faceless music, almost like it has been made by no one. There is a plunderphonics vibe, being pilfered from 80s soul compact discs, shopping malls, waiting screens and other corporate muzak. Dead music repeating forever in stasis.”
9. James Ferraro - Surveillance/Sounds From The Cam 2: Inside the Mutant Church (edit)
Henry: “Last year whenever people on the net discussed James Ferraro they always mentioned his Far Side Virtual LP and rarely went beyond it into his vast discography. Now, I really loved that record but he has so much other stuff too. This track is an edited segment from his KFC City 3099 Pt. 1: Toxic Spill CD-R. Some of the most incredible music. This stuff is the full on trip. Also check out music made under his Edward Flex moniker, titles like Do You Believe in Hawaii? and Maui Blackout/Liquid Bikini. Amazing stoner body builder workouts, bad 80s films, toxic waste, it’s all there. It’s like, what is that sound? What the hell is going on? For me, Ferraro’s music still has lots of mystery to it, something rare and exciting these days. A while ago I made a fake soundtrack to the original Grand Theft Auto PS1 game hugely influenced by KFC City but I never let anyone hear it or told anyone about it. Its called Mandarin Mayhem.”
10. Scissor Girls - S-H-A-R-P-E-N-I-N-G
Isablood: “I have liked this band for yonks, they’re just brilliant. They’re a No Wave band from Chicago (I think), they were active in the early 90s, their live shows verged on performance art, they have really good videos. I think one of them was in Lake Of Dracula? So good.”
11. Jaap Blonk & Dylan Nyoukis - Broken Magic
Henry: “From the collab LP Dubbletwee I downloaded on the Free Music Archive run by the WFMU people. WFMU is the greatest thing ever and the best radio station in the world! Anyway, I love this stuff. Music for boneheads! Hits the spot after a really hard day at work.”
12. Goblin - Sleepwalking
Henry: “From the Phenomena soundtrack. What a movie, one of Argento’s best. There are also songs by Motorhead and Iron Maiden placed at really inappropriate times. I love all the Goblin soundtracks though this is a really 80s sounding one. It reminds me of 80s Tangerine Dream which I have been getting more into lately - Le Parc and all that Melrose years stuff.”
Isablood: “Yeah the reason I chose this was because a) this is THE BEST Argento film and b) the music is SO FUNNY. This is obviously good, but like Henry says, some bits are just so inappropriate, it’s hilarious.”
13. Blanche Blanche Blanche - Fireworks
Isablood: “I know very little about this band, I bought a tape on a whim and I really like them.”
14. Krzysztof Penderecki: Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra - The Dream Of Jacob
Henry: “I wanted to just put Classical music on my half of the mix but there was just too much other stuff that I could not ignore. Penderecki is certainly one of my favourite composers though and I am dying to hear his stuff played live. It rarely seems to get programmed which is such a shame. Written in 1974, this piece was apparently a gift from the composer to Prince Rainier of Monaco celebrating the 25th anniversary of his accession. I wonder what he made of it. It is based on the biblical tale of Jacob and his dream in the desert of a ladder to heaven with the angels ascending and descending. It is full of foreboding and absolutely terrifying, much like his other work up till then. Is it any wonder that the word for dream in German is traum - relating to trauma?”
15. Valerie Dore - Its So Easy
Henry: ”Lastly some Italo-Disco. I just can’t help myself. I had obvious qualms putting old Val and Penderecki together next to each other but here we are. I love this stuff, seriously, and this is my favourite track by her. It is so funny, her singing is so off-key but my appreciation for this goes way beyond mere irony. Those synths, the cheap production, bad English yet total danceability are key to good Italo. This is a slow one however, for dancing close with that someone special. The Valerie Dore project was really sung by Dora Carofiglio and the model on the cover didn’t always match the singer on the record, a kind of thing typical of the genre. Make sure you check out her videos and dig that soft focus!”
Isablood: “I love this song because she’s so bad at singing! It’s such a dancefloor hit…ahem.”
Thank you! So… what’s all this Occult Hand business about anyway?
Isablood/Henry: “Our friend Dylan who runs Chocolate Monk said he wanted the two of us to collaborate for a release on his label, but we were lazy about it… then he asked us to play with Thurston Moore for a Colour Out Of Space benefit - we could hardly say no to that!”
Is all your music improvised or is there an element of composition at work?
Isablood: “A bit of both? I tend to lean towards structure as I literally can’t function without it in anything I do. Henry’s the improv king. The music is often improvised but we pick out which samples/loops to make/use, for example I am really interested in abject theory in relation to horror, in particular Barbara Creed’s monstrous-feminine (in the horror film) - in one ‘composition’ we used a series of loops that link to those ideas, but it’s not a final piece, it’s an ongoing project/theme of mine I guess. When we play it’s mostly improvised but we have a rough idea of what’s going where. We want to get our cat Sissy Spacek more involved as we’ve made some recordings with her voice - the noises she makes are insane sometimes!!! We’d probably have the RSPCA after us though so I doubt that will happen.”
Henry: “I am hardly the improv king! It is certainly what I am more used to in my music making. Occult Hand is the most structured thing I have done in a while in fact, though there is some improvisation within a certain framework. To be honest I cannot remember making some of the sounds and music. I find scrunched up loops that I made ages ago which sound as if they have been created by someone else, or an ‘unknown force’…!”
How did Occult Hand’s distinctive aesthetic develop?
Isablood: “It’s kind of a joke, the name comes from a secret society of American journalists in the 1960s who attempted to (secretly) get the phrase “It was as if an occult hand had…” in print. There’s a list on Wikipedia of where it has appeared, I think one appeared in January this year… anyway we thought it was funny. Initially we had some samples from ESP experiments and séances etc and so I guess it just worked, same with the video we made, which was footage of women being hypnotised and forced to confront events from their childhood. It was really important that we created a whole scene, but without taking ourselves too seriously. We have different outfits now that are a bit less DOOM AND GLOOM, except Henry had an allergic reaction to the make-up so we might have to re-think that. I love the theatrics of it all anyway, dressing up is so much fun to do. For me it’s as much about the performance as it is the music. We want to make a video (VHS) next.”
Henry: “A video with trailers, yes! We both love horror films. Most of my recent solo work has revolved around 80s horror films, Troma, that kind of thing. We want to bring that out in Occult Hand, and make it as slimy as possible.”
Do you believe in UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis?
Isablood: “I’d like to believe in all of that, I’m open to anything and I’m really interested in telepathy and things like that. I think it’s important to have a sense of humor about these things too. At the moment I’m reading a lot of astrology books for animals which are really interesting, and I have this amazing Sex Signs book by Judith Bennet - a ‘dramatic marriage of astrology, psychology and female sexuality’ written in 1980. It’s a bit dated but I find it fascinating and really funny. I started teaching myself palmistry too which I am getting better at, and I can read Tarot a little.”
Henry: “Yeah maybe - the truth is out there, man! Seriously though, there is some cool stuff I have read about - spirit photography in sound as well as photographs. I like the idea of certain combined frequencies containing ‘artifacts’ and ‘voices’. This can certainly be true in white noise or static. In analogue radio terms the static noises between stations are referred to as ‘ghosts’. This ‘otherness’ - a netherworld you do not get with a digital set. Anyway I am sure there is an interesting project in there somewhere…”
Do you have first-hand experience of the paranormal? Do tell…
Isablood: “I did witness a witch get on a broomstick and fly off at the bottom of a field when I was about 15. We thought it was our Grandmother dressed up until she flew off. I’m not lying. Our friends have a ghost in their house in Lewes, I haven’t experienced it myself yet but a lot of my friends have felt a sudden chill and someone/thing leaning over them when they’re sleeping.”
Henry: “I am not sure I believe in ghosts as I have never had any experience with this. Maybe I am not psychically attuned to those frequencies!!!”
What do you find terrifying?
Isablood: “The only things that really scares me is milk. I’ve never drunk it on it’s own and I have no idea what it tastes like but the idea of drinking it or even smelling it fills me with dread. As soon as I came out of the womb I rejected my mother’s milk. I HATE IT.”
Henry: “Real stuff like going to the supermarket. Especially troubling if you do not have a list or plan of action. Unlike Issy though I like milk A LOT. I think it is good to do things that scare you. I once went to India for a month on my own and practically on a whim, which was terrifying at first but also very exciting.”
Please rave about one book, one film and one record.
Isablood: “We’re both obsessed with horror films, yawn, I think we probably watch about ten a week. I can’t stop thinking about this film called Angst (aka Fear), by Gerald Kargl (1983). The film is based on the real case of the Austrian mass murderer Werner Kniesek. It’s amazing!!! It is probably THE most realistic/uncomfortable serial killer film I’ve ever seen and it features two of my favourite things – false teeth and an annoying dachshund. I suppose the premise is similar to that of Funny Games and home intruder type thrillers, it reminded me of Michael Haneke in its style.”
Henry: “I don’t know, I watch too much crap probably. I want to watch Damon Packard’s Reflections Of Evil and Foxfur. The trailer for Foxfur is really funny and bewildering in a really great way. I can’t say I am amazed by a lot of new films but that is perhaps a boring point of view. I end up watching a lot of inconsequential 80s teen dramas and horrors as a result.”
Isablood: “House Of Psychotic Women: An autobiographical Topography Of Female Neurosis In Horror and Exploitation Films by Kier-La Janisse. I haven’t quite finished it, but the topographical idea of exploring horror film from a positive female perspective is of real interest to me, there are so few positive portrayals of female neurosis in horror. This book highlights those experiences but at the same time comes from a very intimate autobiographical angle.”
Henry: “At the moment I am reading Thomas Pynchon’s last novel, Inherent Vice. I love that guy. Gravity’s Rainbow is a favourite.”
Isablood: “I haven’t bought any records recently, the last thing I got was Blood Stereo’s I Was Tucked Up Eyeless Inside A Fish CD-R. It comes with all these brilliant collage postcards that Karen Constance made, her paintings/collages are amazing. The Halloween III Soundtrack is so good, I love all John Carpenter’s soundtracks but this has to be the top. Death Waltz Records re-release loads of amazing horror soundtracks on vinyl with lovely new lithographed artwork. They’re releasing The Devil Rides Out soon which I’m really excited about. To be honest living with Henry drives me mad as far as buying Italo-Disco records is concerned. His brother put it well once when he said, ‘His record buying habit rivals my coke habit’.”
Henry: “Too many I guess. Most of what I buy are Italo-Disco singles. I just ordered three last night. It’s not fair on other kinds of music but what can I do? I am a guy obsessed. I have a lot of other cool stuff to get through – some Blood Stereo CD-Rs, got a couple of Borbetomagus CDs through the post today. A stack of tapes a friend found in the street and gave to me. I need to go through them all. Sometimes it is overwhelming how much music I acquire and is available on the internet. I have so many lists. I really want to get into Italian Prog, more African Soukous music….the time, you know? I have to pace myself.”
Do you have some releases planned for the near future?
Isablood/Henry: “Yes quite a few planned in the next few months - We already have a tape Illustrious Pairing on 666ties Records, we’re doing a CD-R for Chocolate Monk, a tape on Night School Records and a 12” on our friend Scott from Sealings/Pheromoans label Untimely Demise.”
It’s an undisputed fact that more and more young people are getting involved in the occult. But are they aware of the dangers inherent in asking a Shadow Person back to their house for a glass of cream soda or playing Knock Down Ginger in a registered thin place? Possibly not. So when we encountered the music of Swedish duo Death And Vanilla we were immediately concerned that their sweet but sinister pop music might encourage impressionable listeners to dabble in the Dark Arts. Although Anders and Marleen were quick to reassure us with their easy charm and impeccable Scandinavian manners, we would nevertheless advise caution when listening to the mixtape they have assembled exclusively for The Outer Church. You could be inadvertently welcoming The Hag into your abode! And that would be just awful. Download Death And Vanilla’s mixtape below and read on if you dare.
So, Death And Vanilla. Who are you and what on Earth do you think are you doing?
Anders: ”Death And Vanilla are Marleen and Anders. We’re clean, good natured, well behaved and all around nice people from Sweden.”
Marleen: ”We’re like rabbits you know, just sniffing around, checking things out.”
This mix you have put together - what’s the story with that?
Marleen: ”It’s a mix of songs and sounds that we like and that inspire us. There’s a bit of psych, some electronic library music, French 60s pop, psychedelic Italian OST, swedish 70s Progg etc.”
Anders: ”There’s some very melodic catchy stuff, some psychedelic stuff and some experimental stuff. There are vibraphones, moogs, great groovy rhythms, fuzz guitar, cool bass lines, Mellotrons and lots of echo and spring reverb. Put all of this into a meat grinder and out comes Death And Vanilla!”
The name of the group is both sweet and macabre! What made you choose it?
Anders: ”We had a list of names and they were all quite boring so we started moving the words around and came up with some new combinations. Death And Vanilla stood out. And it was either that or Small Fluffy Rabbits or Pants Are On Fire! so it was an easy choice in the end. We actually had the name before any music was written.”
Your music is often very unnerving. Have you gotten yourselves all mixed up in the occult?
Anders: ”We do like the supernatural and the occult as aesthetic sources of inspiration, but we think our music is very melodic and very pop. There are no occult themes in the lyrics at all really [A likely story - OC]. The lyrics always come last when we write songs and we’re basically just trying to find words that supports the melody in the best possible way and that also fits the mood of the music. The melody is the most important.”
Marleen: ”We like to experiment with different sounds to give the music an ‘otherworldly’ feel. To combine found sounds, abstract noises, samples from films etc with sweet melodies is something we really like. ‘Atmosphere’ and ‘feel’ are very important when we make music.”
Is it your intention to corrupt the young folks with pop music whose content may encourage them to dabble in witchcraft?
Marleen: ”Yes, clean, good-natured, well-behaved, all around nice witchcraft from Sweden. Ha ha, no you’re probably thinking of the swedish hardrock band Ghost, that’s their mission. We just want to eat cinnamon buns, watch cute animals on YouTube and make cool music. With subliminal messages that corrupt the minds of young people.”
What kind of books and films have you been reading and watching?
Marleen: ”Like most people we love films and books. Some of our favorite films are Picnic At Hanging Rock, Don’t Look Now, The Innocents, The Cremator, Repulsion, Le Orme etc. We take lots of inspiration from films like these that kind of pull you into their world and stay in your head for days after you’ve seen them. We like our music to be like that. You know that if you close your eyes you’re transported to some other place.”
Anders: ”I read all kinds of stuff but some of my all time favorite books are The Magus by John Fowles, The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and two Swedish HP Lovecraft omnibuses called Cthulhu 1 and Cthulhu 2.”
Your videos and sleeves are awash with occult imagery. Who is responsible for them?
Marleen: ”Good lord, are they? Well what do you know…”
Anders: ”The visuals are very important to us and we rather they look homemade or amateurish but have the right feel to them, than to hire someone with no connection to the band who just comes up with some “nice” graphics that has no feel to it. We want to take the listener on a trip and it starts right with the videos and record sleeves. All the graphics are made by me and so are most of the videos.”
You’re based in Malmö, Sweden. Is that a hotbed of witchery and occultism?
Anders: ”Yes, I met Satan on the way to the supermarket this morning! I grew up near a place where they used to hang people in the Middle Ages. The Gallows Hill was the name of the place. That could be a good name for a Doom Metal or Witch House band possibly.”
Marleen: ”I once attended a night time Sabbath [Aha! - OC] in a park in Malmö. My friend was into that kind of thing and I just went along to see what it was all about. I found it quite dull though. My grandmother and some of her friends meet every now and then to hold seances in the basement of a council building. I’ve never attended but perhaps I should. Malmö is good place to live, it’s a quite small city but has a big city feel to it, and there are lots of things going on all the time. It’s a very multicultural place with lots of people from all over the world and has many beautiful parks. It’s also a quite cheap place to live. One of the appeals of Malmö is the closeness to the European continent which makes you look south to Europe for inspiration, rather than north to the rest of Sweden.”
What scares you?
Anders/Marleen: ”Pitbull dogs, the two old guys on the balcony in The Muppet Show, early mornings, Phil Spector’s hair, spiders, North Korea, Cthulhu, earthquakes, horsemeat, being abducted by aliens, the strange man who cuddles pigeons every day near our apartment (we’re just waiting for him to bite their heads off) and… pitbull dogs.”
I dare say you have some evil plans up your sleeve. Care to share them?
Anders/Marleen: ”We’re planning to come to the UK soon and steal all your candy so watch out. Give us those Percy Pigs!”