Interview: Joseph Stannard of The Outer Church
Scottish dates for audiovisual event exploring the leftfield, weird and uncanny
As Hallowe'en looms, Brighton-based 'uncanny audiovisual event' The Outer Church prepares for its first Scottish manifestations. Founded four years ago, The Outer Church recently issued its debut compilation in collaboration with Manchester label Front & Follow. A portal to the spectral currents in contemporary underground music, the acclaimed double-CD showcases the sonic fictions of such artists as Grumbling Fur, Pye Corner Audio and Baron Mordant. For its Scottish dates, the Outer Church presents live music from compilation contributors Black Mountain Transmitter, Embla Quickbeam, and Scottish ambient-techno outfit Broken3, along with a screening of Graham Reznick's tripped-out backwoods horror movie, I Can See You. The List’s Stewart Smith joins chief-programmer Joseph Stannard on a journey to the other side.
What is the Outer Church and why should we join its congregation?
The Outer Church is an uncanny audiovisual event incorporating music and visual art. It’s occasionally mislabelled an ‘experimental’ event which suggests something wholly abstract and difficult, but there is a certain aesthetic at work. I’ve booked a wide variety of artists, from folk-based songwriters to analogue synth improvisers, including Demdike Stare, Raime, United Bible Studies, Pye Corner Audio and Jessica Bailiff. What unites the participants is that their work explicitly gestures beyond the mundane. The Outer Church is programmed with a great deal of care and consideration - each line-up is designed to work like a sigil or incantation.
Does it have anything to do with hauntology?
Well, I’m definitely interested in the idea of 'the past inside the present', but I’m just as interested in the idea of the future inside the present and the unexpected incursion of ‘other’ realities. I tend to bundle all of this together under the terms ‘weird’ or ‘uncanny’ as they seem somewhat more durable and evocative. Hauntology has become associated with forty-something nostalgia for a particular period of British cultural history. I think The Outer Church is broader and more inclusive than that. Then there’s the fact that a kind of deluded hankering for a British Golden Age is currently being exploited by certain artists whose music has very little uncanny charge. Dreadful indie-folk and mediocre krautrock with old British film samples. I’m sure you know who I’m referring to...
The Outer Church compilation album has gone into its second edition. Why do you think it's connected with people? Do you think it has to do with people seeking out a sense of the uncanny and weird that is perhaps lacking in mainstream culture?
‘There’s actually plenty of weirdness in mainstream culture at the moment. Two of the year’s biggest films are The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter 2 (both directed by James Wan) which are excellent examples of contemporary weird cinema. The horror film as an artform is doing very well at present with the emergence of new auteurs such as Wan, Ti West, Ben Wheatley et al. TV series like Les Revenants and Southcliffe have explored the effects of the uncanny on small communities in their own different ways. Richard Littler’s Scarfolk website has captured the public imagination. So it’s probably more the case that there’s a irrepressible appetite for weirdness across the cultural spectrum. I think the compilation has made a connection partly because people respond well to music that is atmospheric and suggests some form of narrative while allowing room for the individual imagination. There’s been a recent wave of music that references film soundtracks, for example - specifically electronic soundtracks from genre films. More importantly though, I think the compilation has done well for the simple reason that it’s very good. As soon as the tracks began to filter in Justin [Watson, Front & Follow label boss] and I realised that all the artists were fired up and working to the very limits of their abilities. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a beautiful object, with typically wonderful poster artwork by Grumbling Fur’s Alexander Tucker.
Can you tell us something about each of the acts playing?
‘Black Mountain Transmitter is James Moore from Belfast. Brighton's Resident Records listed his album Black Goat Of The Woods as one of their featured releases when it was reissued by Aurora Borealis in 2010. Their description intrigued me so much that I walked into the shop and bought it on spec. His last album Playing With Dead Things was even darker and nastier than Black Goat. James has a special talent for making music that is genuinely terrifying - his contribution to the compilation is no exception. These two shows are his first outside of Ireland. Embla Quickbeam is Rowan Forestier-Walker who lives in a village just outside Eastbourne. She works with field recordings and electronics, and her music has a beautifully gnarled, twisted, pastoral feel - distilled essence of wyrd. She has released music through Dylan Nyoukis's Chocolate Monk label and is without doubt one of the most compelling artists to have emerged from Brighton’s DIY community. Broken3 is formed of TVO aka Ruaridh Law, Production Unit aka Dave Donnelly and Erstlaub aka Dave Fyans from the extraordinary Glasgow-based label Broken20. This is the first time all three have collaborated live after having produced a joint track for The Outer Church compilation.
You also show films at the OC. Would it be fair to say that the aim is to show how these uncanny currents move across art forms?
‘Definitely. I’d add that the event is designed to present the audience with something they can lose themselves in. The aim is to enchant the congregation, to bewitch them. Then feed them to the Outer Gods. I'm joking of course. Probably.
Can you tell us something about Graham Reznick and his film?
I stumbled across the website for Graham’s production company Aphasia Films whilst researching the work of Ti West and Larry Fessenden. Graham has worked on sound design for all of West’s films from his 2001 short The Wicked to the upcoming The Sacrament and he’s a talented director, writer and musician in his own right. The publicity material for I Can See You describes it as 'a psychedelic campfire tale' which was always going to pique my interest, as backwoods horror is a favourite subgenre of mine. Graham’s track on the compilation is an alternate version of a piece from the soundtrack. I’ve previously screened the film in Brighton (alongside The Haxan Cloak and The Larsen Effect) and Dublin (with Pye Corner Audio, Black Mountain Transmitter and Kemper Norton). It’s quite a headfuck but I don’t want to give any spoilers. It’s best approached with as little prior knowledge as possible.
The Outer Church, Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh, Fri 25 October; Kinning Park Complex, Glasgow, Sat 26 Oct
The Outer Church - Hallowe'en playlist
Canonbury - TQ5699
Grumbling Fur - Wylderness Waiting
Boards Of Canada - Collapse
Lost Trail & The Implicit Order - Haunted Trail
These Feathers Have Plumes - An End To Drought
Coil - Journey To Avebury
Embla Quickbeam - Seven Is In Rhinogs Crown [Part 2]
Production Unit - Everything Is Permitted
Black Mountain Transmitter - Messages