I’m going to have it as a guess that you weren’t tuned into NTS Radio at 6pm yesterday.
If you had been, then this article is pretty useless to you, because I’m not if I’m going to able to explain anything about what happened with any sort of clarity.
For those who weren’t listening, then you missed the unbridled strangeness and occasional genius of The Black Midi Variety Hour which is set to return monthly to NTS One.
The prestigious and much-acclaimed London band Black Midi, have made a radio show reminiscent of the kind of thing that Bing Crosby would’ve broadcasted in the 40s; except with experimental noise instead of big band, and skits that seemed to be written by an algorithm that had spent a thousand hours listening to The Goon Show.
This seems like a par, but I did find myself drawn to the dense weirdness of the show, which seems to coincide with a move by the band into narrative territories.
The band has recently released an entire selection of short stories on bandcamp, layered above until-now unreleased jams recorded during the sessions of their debut album Schlagenheim.
The picks are entirely dumbfounding to say the least, with a common thread seemingly non existent, with the list featuring shorts from Edgar Allen Poe and Ernest Hemingway.
The performances are engaging, with the music and voice providing a sense of wall-closing intensity to compliment the more gothic stories.
Likewise is a previous short broadcasted during the NTS Remote Utopias show, which seems to be the genesis of this band’s descent (or likely ascent) into radio-play madness.
This short, being The Beggar and The King by Winthrop Parkhurst, is my favourite of the selection, with the subject matter and voice acting being so incredibly surreal and out-of-leftfield as to be pretty funny.
The other thing about all this, is the question on the average Black Midi stan’s mind: “Are they fucking with us”.
After all, there seems to be some confusion as to whether this constitutes a sequel, or at least a bridge beyond their debut. That is to say, are these releases cannon? And can we expect this to be a new direction from the band?
Like I said, I have no answers. But what I can deduce is that this may be a The War on Drugs can Suck my Cock situation, in that it isn’t 100% serious but they do still feel these releases have something to say.
Which brings me back to the radio show, which features many friends of the band, as well as touring members and even music by the band themselves (as a special treat!)
This coming together of friends new and old has a very Bing Crosby vibe to it, as the presenter Geordie Greep (of the named band) brings on people in succession to discuss whatever they want and engage in whatever activity Greep feels important for the world to hear.
The atmosphere is absolutely all over the place, with a section savaging the Nixon administration leading into Guess the Tune with members of Black Country New Road, then flowing into heavy industrial noise before landing on a beautifully intense short story read by an artist named Fat Tony (called The Future Looks Good by Lesley Nneka Arimah).
I found Fat Tony‘s section to be one of my favourite moments of the show, just above the scene where Greep reinvigorates keyboardist Seth Evans’ life with the knowledge of the major keys on a piano before killing him with a bowling ball.
As you can hear from my description, the show is a mixed bag, but inevitably a good experience just based on the boldness of it.
This medium seems underused to me, to have an experimental act branch out into other avenues of media to tell a fun and interesting story.
I think perhaps the radio-play is definitely due a massive comeback, especially with the popularity of podcasts and the rising interest in metanarratives due to things like Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch.
I’d highly recommend you make your own mind up and take a listen to this new kind of experience, who knows; you might be the first to witness some sort of new artistic movement.
If you’re looking for another fix of this surrealism in action, I can point you in the direction of Param Singh’s audiobook Reverse Transmission, which is a master class of narrative in audiobook form.
Other recommendations for horror listens of this ilk would be Limetown by Zach Akers and Two-Up productions, The Magnus Archives by Jonathan Sims and Rusty Quill Ltd and, a YouTube channel called TheEdgeOfNightFall, who has seen fit to post a ton of classic horror audiobooks for free (I recommend Who Goes There by John W. Campbell, as a start).