There are ‘drummers’ and there are ‘more than drummers’. ‘Drummers’ play the drums very well as they move from gig to gig, band to band, session to session. ‘More than drummers’ can also do this but they naturally do the ‘more’. Composing, producing, band leading, improvising, collaborating and beyond, think Charles Hayward or Jim White or Valentina Magaletti or Laurence Pike or Cozy Powell (well maybe…).
Maxwell Hallett (aka Betamax) is a ‘more than’ drummer. Being one third of the cosmic jazz blasters The Comet Is Coming as well as one half of electronic groovers Soccer 96 with fellow Comet rider Danalogue, brings a certain symmetry but Hallett’s reach goes further. There’s been the much loved ‘Betamax vs Clive Bell’ album from 2021, which pitched him into recording with the leftfield luminary i.e. his Dad, as well as an experimental collaboration with Nightports. More recently, last year, came the release of a second Coma World album, ‘Coma Wong’, knocking the electro punk jazz door further open alongside bassist Pete Bennie and tape manipulator Raimund Wong.
Now, following on the tails of Coma Wong, comes a new collection from another Betamax/Hallett conception Champagne Dub, the album ‘Rainbow’ out now via the bastion of alt beat music On The Corner Records. Champagne Dub are an experimental collective which aims to discover as Hallett says “…the result of what happens when you mix a bit of this person, with a bit of that person”. The outcome of the first Champagne Dub empirical tests came in 2019 with the ‘Drops’ album, an intriguing batch of percussive explorations, probing bottom end and electronic twists. In comparison ‘Rainbow’ seems more assertive and confident, the players using the freedom that Champagne Dubness affords and trusting in the value of the band’s mantra, ‘everyone fully going for it’. This is an album with its own distinct kick.
The Champagne Dub assembly for 2024 keeps essentially the same components as their first encounter. Ruth Goller, very much a ‘more than’ bassist (see Acoustic Ladyland, Melt Yourself Down, Skylla etc), returns as the rhythmic cog linked to the Betamax percussive gearing. Electronic musician, experimental instrument maker, scientist and inventor of the Laser Bagpipe, Ed Briggs once again brings sound deception to the Champagne Dub offering while the mysterious Mr Noodles (Peruvian? Performance Artist? Singer?) adds vocal abstraction to the mix. Only Theremin enthusiast, Nahum Mantra, is absent this time but Clive Bell refreshes the musical partnership with his son via instrumental subtleties here and there.
From the off the tunnelling trip-hop psychedelia of Sand Sink burrows deep to reveal Champagne Dub’s essential throb. Goller’s bass riff drives stealthily, curled tight to the Betamax snare smack and insistent percussive chatter. Electronic fragments flick off and fly by, while the Ed Briggs Laser Bagpipe loops in with lo-fi melodic phrases. The track deceptively builds a shamanistic momentum, the shakes and shuffles urging movement as Mr Noodles dream-wavey vocals glide free.
That Noodles effect often brings added absurdist energy to the tunes on ‘Rainbow’, an unsettling Damo Suzuki-like impact on the listener through the use of random phrase and non-language. Added to that his vocal pitch and timbre (maybe via electronic device maybe not) frequently switch and pivot within the songs to add to the fascination. In the lolloping, skank of Wet Drip you get gruff barks and distant neighing plus the punky sneer of the title hook as the song clatters along with wild Slits abandon. During the pulsating motoric funk of Scrubbing, the lyrical imagery is necessarily perverse and pointed. “Scrubbing the surface, scrubbing your head, maybe in the laundry there’s only so much left” Mr Noodles sing-songs over a growling Goller bassline, frisky Betamax tick and random Briggs’ bleeps. Agit K-pop meets Death-Disco anyone?
Elsewhere on ‘Rainbow’ Champagne Dub peg their funk bounce to a more low-down swagger on the infectious Refreshment Guy. Here Goller’s stripped back riff anchors the tune with a Barry Adamson-like gift for tone and timing. That stretched, booming note at the start of each line is definitively ‘the one’. Such telepathic connection between the bassist and drummer in Champagne Dub easily sustains the album’s trajectory as it motors onto the ‘B’ side. There is no dip here.
Perhaps the final trio of tracks see the group get closest to Hallett’s aim “to create raw metamorphic rock-rituals“. Cumulonimbus finds them picking up on the experimentation of the ‘Drops’ album. A fractured punk-jazz opening sees Betamax skittering around the restless rhythms Seb Rochford style while a looping airport lounge jingle pulls in a different direction. Mr Noodles scat is almost throw away until you catch the words, “fractured”, “dread”, “misery”, “despair”, “don’t stare”, “chocolate (?)”. From here the track builds into a shuddering crescendo of bass repetition, ghoulish synths and tightening cross rhythms. It’s as stark, uncomfortable and graphic as Gazelle Twin’s recent ‘Black Dog’ confessional.
Chancho Vaca not so much lightens the mood as pushes things into a wider spacey cavern. There’s an urgent no-wave, Laswell thrust to the song matched by Mr Noodles hardcore chants and swirling electronics plus Clive Bell’s soaring melodica and pan pipes. You might think that this strange brew shouldn’t work but Champagne Dub work these elements into a hypnotic, almost hallucinatory soundscape. In comparison the album’s title track may seem conventional but if anything it’s more powerfully addictive, a slab of pounding cosmic psyche minimalism that chugs relentlessly to a sudden halt. Yes it’s a (head) banger.
‘Rainbow’ is an album that might readily get lumped in with the rising flow of post Can, post 23 Skidoo, post ACR, post Perry referencing music which scuttles out from the listening posts these days. But that would be missing out on a band that can still invent and individualise rather than merely recycle. Champagne Dub understand the bass foundation, the physicality of the mix, the cut and the thrust. Take that understanding together with a sense of purpose, challenge and enjoyment and you end up with ‘more than’ just another album.
Get your copy of ‘Rainbow‘ by Champagne Dub from your local record shop or direct from On The Corner HERE