So you know how it is. Some days you sit in your fetid flat/apartment/hole and you find yourself chaffing at your surroundings. the walls are closing in on you and it’s suffocating. But then you look through your window to the outside world and it looks a much more terrifying place, so you decide to stay in instead. Hey, we’ve all been there, even myself on a Sunday after a particularly heavy period of chemical fuelled self-abasement.
But it’s not often that you get involved hearing a piece of music that truly encapsulates the overwhelmingly damning nature of urban domestic life. That is until you’ve heard the music of THE SHADOW RING, one of the most bewildering, challenging acts I’ve come across for a long time.
In the world of ’90s British music, these guys were truly an anomaly. While everyone was riding the wave of Britpop, “Cool Britannia” and a steaming torrent of coke, heroin and bullshit, the Shadow Ring with no real coherent underground scene to tether it,simply fell through the cracks of the alternative indie scene, making barely a ripple. Instead of writing a long bio, there’s a fine piece about the band and their music HERE.
I became aware of The Shadow Ring last year when the track “Hold Onto ID” (from the album of the same name) appeared on “The Disappointment Engine” mixtape form Blackest Ever Black. Even amongst the unsettling, minimal, dark sounds the BEB are universally known for curating on mixtapes, this track was like nothing I’d ever heard of, It was so nihilistic as to be truly destructive.
Needless to say, thanks to the internet, i acquired a copy of the album and listened intently. And as aesthetic qualities go, The Shadow Ring paints a fairly bleak picture. The main feeling you get from listening to “Hold Onto I.D” is that of a state of mental deterioration as you slowly slip into kind of abstract parallel world, at once weird, but instantly recognisable where the trappings of suburbia and modern living become a form of Kafkaesque Interzone nightmare. Where going to the shops for bread and paying the gas bill at the post office is a trial, where the bank ATMs display secret messages that only you can read, and the neighbouring streets seem like an impenetrable maze intent on trapping you forever.
So you stay inside and lock the door. But even then there is no escape. The walls close in on you, you swear that there are crack addicted mice (or even worse midgets) scuttling under the floorboard, the fridge is trying to steal your soul and the permatanned celebs you view on TV are watching, talking, gossiping, judging your every move (shit, maybe they ARE!)
All this mental turmoil is accentuated by the oppressive mood produced from the album’s music. The ultimate bedroom/kitchen hovel sound. The sound of hope slowly dying on record. Rhythms are banged together from whatever’s at hand (drinks glasses, spoons on tables, etc). Threatening atonal electronic squalls, and detuned destroyed guitar sounds. All the while the dampened, flattened dour monotones of vocalist and guitarist Graham Lambkin
The mental environment created by “Hold Onto ID” has certain similarities with the lonely suburban world of Greg Feely from Grant Morrison’s “The Filth”. There he is a man who lives alone with his cat and spends his day in drudgery and his evenings masturbating to porn (he may also be a secret agent for a secretive cleansing force known as “The Hand”) whereupon his life slowly falls apart.
But the closest parallels with “Hold Onto ID” can be found with JG Ballard and his story “The Enormous Space”. There, a middle class suburban man, soon after experiencing a severe car crash and being hounded by his estranged wife for a divorce, decides to embark upon an experiment where he will never again leave his house and will survive on whatever the house will “Provide” him. Insanity commences as his small home slowly engulfs him to become his entire universe. “The Enormous Space” was adapted by the BBC as a TV drama titled “Home” starring Anthony Sher.
So you fancy splintering you personality over the kitchen floor while doing a dump in the cat’s litter tray muttering about signals coming through the Radio and infecting you brain? the you’re not alone! Try out the Shadow Ring now… then get some professional help!