“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today it’s an intense triple header, with an interesting brand new synth psych band called The Utopia Strong with its trio of esteemed members choosing a tune each. They consist of Steve Davis who has swapped the baize of his legendary snooker past for the 1s and 2s (by which I don’t mean a red and then a yellow), his partner-in-crime behind the decks Kavus Torabi (Gong/Cardiacs/Knifeworld/Guapo) and the well-appointed Michael J. York (Coil/ Teleplasmiste/Guapo). The music is mesemerising, modular and magnificent, like The Heads meets John Carpenter, via John Carpenter and Loop and it’s on Rocket Recordings home of Teeth of the Sea (whose Mike Bourne introduced Steve to the modular synth), Gnod and VS favs Lay Llamas.
Steve has truly gone from Snooker Loopy to Loop, snooker god to disciple of Gnod – and in Kavus Torabi has found a spiritual touchstone that nobody could have seen coming and that I can see going for miles and miles, as the Byrds might have said once. With York making up a trippy triumvirate if The Utopia Strong with their sometimes sinister, sometimes euphoric sweeps are not doing a Mogwai and scoring the next Les Revenants I’ll eat my hat. Not only has each of them chosen an imperious song each, they’ve also told highly cultured tales, so it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome to VS, The Utopia Strong!
Steve and Kavus began hanging out in DJ booths after Steve’s retirement from snooker in 2016. Steve was already a massive music head having infamously single handedly promoted three nights at the Bloomsbury Theatre for French esoteric leviathans Magma so frustrated was he about their absence from the UK and he was mega into soul, jazz-funk and progressive rock from the seventies onwards, as happy with a needle on a turntable as with a cue on the table. With a kindred spirit in Kavus, Steve’s attention to detail and precision was focused on an expanding musical collection of experimental electronica and he could fully indulge as he began to accompany Kavus, whose Knifeworld work was totally up his strasse, in DJing at festivals all over, where he’d just as likely spin Autechre as Black Sabbath.
It was while playing at Glastonbury in 2017, the pair hung out with local luminary York, and the idea for The Utopia Strong was born, with the name coming later – an interstellar moniker for a wilfully wonky, soaring satellite of kosmiche psych. But with the trio having tip top taste and impeccable record collections what interplanetary nuggets will they choose to share with the Sheep? These are records that have very much made up the embryos of the band’s existence.
Without further ado, these are The Utopia Strong’s illuminating “song(s) for ewe”…
Michael J York’s choice:
Albert Marcoeur – Se Souvenir, Verbe Pronominal from the album Ma Vie Avec Elles
I first heard the music of Albert Marcoeur at Steve’s house on the evening of New Years Day 2018, all three of us had got together earlier in the day to do a radio show and when we got back Kavus and Steve suggested we listen to Ma Vie Avec Elles.
From the moment it started I was absolutely captivated by this astonishingly complex, dense and imaginative music, I couldn’t understand how it could be so clever and weird and yet remain so instantly gratifying, accessible and friendly.
Despite the fact Kavus and Steve were already very familiar with it I could tell that they were really digging it as much as I was and for very similar reasons. The next day we had the first sessions that were to become the basis of The Utopia Strong, I like to think that our shared appreciation of this album the previous evening cemented the knowledge that we were all in the same page musically and helped catalyse our common goal of making spiritual psychedelia that is both generous and joyous.
The track I have chosen has more music in its 7 minutes than many albums manage to pack into an hour plus.…and its all beautiful, I reckon I could listen to the last 2 minutes on loop til the end of time!
Kavus Torabi’s choice:
O.L.D – Underglass
I heard this piece at a friend’s flat in 1995 shortly after the album ‘Formula’ was released and experienced a reaction unlike anything I’ve had before or since.
It wasn’t just that I liked it or identified with it. It was as if this song WAS me. Like a mirror being held up so I could observe my interior as it really was or a Ouija board spelling out truths only I could know, “Underglass” revealed something so wordlessly profound that, over twenty years later, I’m still trying to process it.
That night “Underglass” turned up in my dream and from then onwards has been constantly on my internal jukebox more than anything else.
In 2006 James Plotkin, the visionary who created this piece, played with my band Guapo at The Knitting Factory in New York. In the dressing room beforehand I attempted to tell him just what the song meant to me but he seemed, understandably, upset about how badly the album had sold.
This chiming, evolving, transformative kingdom sculpted from thought and information is truly the last, best and everything you truly dig, a psychedelic meditation echoing backward from the end of time.
I no longer believe in coincidence, so it came as no surprise that our label, Rocket, suggested James Plotkin to master The Utopia Stong album nor that, despite us having heard it countless times throughout its creation in 2018, he unearthed sonic jewels within that sounded new to us.
Steve Davis’s choice:
Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company : C-A-G-E Part II
Like all animals, us humans like routines. Some more than others. I practiced knocking small balls into slightly larger holes with a pointy stick for well over half my current lifespan on the planet, so I’m obviously a sucker for repetition! When it comes to my musical tastes perhaps it should come as no surprise that I can handle a never ending riff. For home listening purposes I’m not talking about a “boof boof” techno beat but more about melodic sequences that repeat and change slowly over time.
I find them totally mesmerising and my preferred choice of “psychedelic” music. Enter David Borden. An American musician who has immersed himself in the Synthesiser and its potential for complex polyphonic sequences. His body of work includes a whole series of amazing pieces under the title “The Continuing Story Of Counterpoint” with his band Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Co. However, The track I’m choosing is “C-A-G-E Part II” from the album Like A Duck To Water. I’m so happy I found this piece of music. It puts it’s arm around me and takes me to a beautiful place. What more could you want from a piece of music?
THANKS SO MUCH TO MICHAEL, KAVUS AND STEVE. AND TO JAMES NOMICO AT RARELY UNABLE PR
The Utopia Strong is out today on the excellent Rocket Recordings
Get it here…
Here’s my favourite track – “Brainsurgeons 3″…