The Sounds of Uncivilisation
The Sounds of Uncivilisation
‘In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.’
— Bertolt Brecht
You could say that music was part of Dark Mountain from the beginning. When we launched the manifesto to a crowd of forty or so friends and family in 2009, there were three singer-songwriters on the bill – Marmaduke Dando, Chris T-T and Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly – each of whom would become collaborators of the project.
Yet at that stage, we were setting out to create a literary journal: a collection of words and images, work that could find its home among the pages of a book. Then we started hearing from artists who were writing songs inspired by what they were reading.
If This is Civilisation…
Of all the performers who gathered around Dark Mountain in its early days, no one played a larger role in bringing music to the heart of the project than Marmaduke Dando, ‘the bard of disempire’. He brought the Powerdown electricity-free club nights he had been running in London and turned the format into a fixture of our Uncivilisation festivals.
His debut album Heathcliffian Surly (2010) featured a series of tracks that took up the themes of the manifesto, delivered in the manner of a Vaudeville crooner and a nod towards DH Lawrence. If This is Civilisation snarls at ‘The deeply satisfying myth of progress, that faceless object that offers divine purpose’, before weaving in Robinson Jeffers’ lines, ‘I would burn my right hand in a slow fire / to change the future…’
It’s not only Marmaduke’s own releases that mark his contribution to an uncivilised discography. He was also responsible for the release of two compilation albums of music made by Dark Mountain artists.
The first of these albums, From the Mourning of the World (2013) was released as a vinyl LP with a gatefold sleeve featuring the art of Rima Staines. The track list includes contributions from Jon Boden, Rebecca Jade, Chris Wood and Bethia Beadman (duetting with Mike Mills).
This was followed in 2015 by Reading the Ashes, a digital album that featured the work of other friends of Dark Mountain including Angela Faye Martin, Telling the Bees, and Billy Bottle and the Multiple, many of whom had appeared on the Powerdown stage at Uncivilisation.
The influence of Dark Mountain runs through the later recordings of the singer-songwriter Chris T-T, but it doesn’t stop there. Chris has also contributed to the Dark Mountain books: his story Five Dead Badgers appeared in our third book, while a selection of his Empties photos (left) were published in Issue 2.
Read more about what Dark Mountain means to Chris T-T in this interview with Gut Feelings zine.
Music for People in Trouble
The Norwegian singer-songwriter Susanne Sundfør had been following Dark Mountain for years, but the turning point came when she travelled to the Pyrenees to take part in a retreat with Paul Kingsnorth and Andres Roberts. That experience fed into the writing of her fifth album, Music for People in Trouble (2017).
Talking to the NME in May 2018, she explained the significance the project has had for her:
A lot of environmentalists are angry with Dark Mountain because they’re so pessimistic. But for me … I feel like in order to fight the people who are making this world a worse place, you’ve got to face your fears and face reality … I understand why it can be intimidating to start reading them, but to me it was very liberating, because what I felt was, “oh, somebody else is also thinking about those things, and here’s a world of artists who are sharing these ideas, and I finally feel like my voice is heard.”
The album weaves together themes of trouble, personal and planetary, building towards the closing track, Mountaineers, an anthemic duet with John Grant.
Dark Mountain Music
A mail arrived from the other end of the world, from Melbourne trio The General Assembly, telling us that they had recorded an EP inspired by our manifesto. Hearing these tracks, it felt like the music picked up at the place where our words ran out.
By good fortune, lead singer Matt Wicking was in Europe in the summers of 2011 and 2013, so on both occasions we invited him to play at Uncivilisation. His performances on-stage were memorable, but most lingering of all was his voice around the campfire on the final night of our final festival, rising into the late summer sky.
Years passed and we kept in touch the way people do these days, occasional messages over Facebook, a Skype call once in a while. There was an album coming and it was taking its time. Then in November 2016, the morning after the US presidential election, Matt sent us a new track, Things Fall Apart. It felt like the only thing we wanted to publish that day:
The following year, the album itself – Vanishing Point – arrived:
Inside a mysterious radio tower on the wild coast of Tasmania, a boy finds a book with his initials on the cover. To his alarm and fascination, it maps out his entire life – from birth to death.
As he reads, the radio beacon crackles to life and “a sea of voices fills the room”, calling him to see the power in his wildness, to give in to the wonder and confounding complexity of life.
Vanishing Point has been celebrated by reviewers and is one of the most accomplished soundscapes so far created by the musicians involved in Dark Mountain.
Early one morning at the first Uncivilisation festival, Sam Duckworth (aka Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly) stumbled upon a screening of Mario Petrucci’s film, Heavy Water. The juxtaposition of Petrucci’s poetry and the images of Chernobyl haunted him, and fed into the writing of the track Angels in the Snow which appeared on his 2011 album, Mannequin. The journey came full circle when the film’s directors, David Bickerstaff and Phil Grabsky, agreed to the use of their footage to create the accompanying music video.
My Hands are Tied
We regularly get asked about the song that accompanies the film about subscribing to Dark Mountain. It’s a track called My Hands Are Tied, taken from Evi Vine’s 2015 album, Give Your Heart to the Hawks. Here’s the full version with the official video:
Evi and her collaborator Steven Hill first got in touch with us in 2014 when they were hiding out in the woodlands of greater Berlin, working on that album. The tracks they recorded there are seeped in the words of Robinson Jeffers and Henry David Thoreau.
Later that year, we had the chance to invite Evi and Steven to play at the launch of our sixth book at the Free Word Centre in London.
While we are on the subject of Henry David Thoreau, it seems appropriate to introduce the work of the artist known these days as Billie Bottle. Together with their band, The Multiple, Billie recorded an entire album inspired by Thoreau’s poetry. Unrecorded Beam inhabits the disputable lands between folk and jazz, infused with memories of the Canterbury scene of the 1970s. You could say Billie’s connection to Dark Mountain goes back furthest of all the musicians around the project, since Billie and Dougald spent their teens singing in folk clubs and busking on high streets together around the northeast of England.
Listen to Unrecorded Beam on Bandcamp.