Red Square and Southend

Talking to me last year about OffOnOff, a noise–jazz supergroup featuring members of Dutch punk collective the Ex and Italian math-rock trio Zu alongside Norwegian free-jazz drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, Joakim Haugland, who releases their music on the Smalltown Superjazzz label, commented that the band have ‘more in common with Black Flag than Albert Ayler’.

Whether or not it stands up to musical analysis, the description is a smart one. Not only does it draw attention to the band members’ disparate musical backgrounds – ranging from anarcho-punk squats to Trondheim University’s music department – it suggests parallels between two very different areas of extreme music: the hardcore movement, born out of youthful, suburban alienation in Reagan-era America, and the fiercely ecstatic, revolutionary free jazz of ’60s New York. Such parallels inform much of the roster of Haugland’s Oslo-based label, which currently includes Original Silence (featuring Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore), No Waveinspired Japanese indie rockers Nisennenmondai and free-jazz legend Joe McPhee, but they are also becoming more common to the way many of us talk about music now, re-drawing maps of underground music that is, with hindsight,more fluid than we first thought.

When I first listened to Red Square’s Thirty-Three, a CD compilation of a series of tape recordings from the mid-’70s released in 2008, it was likely that I would come up with some similar juxtapositions to describe it to my contemporaries: it’s from Essex, 1976, I might say, but it sounds like Chris Corsano, Lee Ranaldo, Mats Gustafsson; like Ultralyd, or The Hard EP by Zs; like it could be on Load or Smalltown Superjazzz. They never had a record out, just a few cassettes, I might enthuse. Proper DIY.

In doing so, I am not only trying to put the CD into a noise-geek context. I’m also relishing the incongruity of the album, splashing around in cross-currents of influence and reference, enjoying figuring out where it would have sat in relation to other, more established music of its era – alongside the more simple pleasure of digging up some new, exciting sounds from an ostensibly unpromising geographic location; a location that I, too, am familiar with. The current reissue culture has its naysayers, decrying the slew of releases from the past as fostering nothing but nostalgia and classicism, but equally, the more musical marginalia that is rediscovered and re-presented, the more adept we become at deciphering not only where music comes from, but where it went, writing independent, often intensely personal histories that subvert those linear narratives of rock’s back pages we’re all a little too familiar with.