Tag: Hawksmoor

HAWKSMOOR Telepathic Heights

Bristol-based James McKeown has been releasing music in various guises since 2010.

But in 2017, he started an instrumental electronic project HAWKSMOOR which has since become his most prolific vehicle. The moniker was inspired by Nicholas Hawksmoor, an architect who worked alongside Christopher Wren and John Vanbrugh on the design of several buildings including St Paul’s Cathedral and Blenheim Palace while he also designed several London churches.

Known as ‘The Devil’s Architect’, it is fitting that Nicholas Hawksmoor’s musical namesake has been an exponent of hauntology which takes the idea that elements from a social or cultural past can return in the manner of a ghost. Having released the Ballardian ‘Concrete Island’ with THE HEARTWOOD INSTITUTE and the druidic Solstice celebration ‘Head Coach’ both on Spun Of Control in the past couple years, McKeown issues his first HAWKSMOOR album with the prestigious Sounds Of The Universe imprint Soul Jazz Records.

Entitled ‘Telepathic Heights’, as with previous HAWKSMOOR works, it is inspired by German pioneers such as CLUSTER, ASHRA, TANGERINE DREAM and NEU! Making use of a Moog’s Sub37 and DFAM drum machine as well as occasional guitar, the album opens with ‘Cycloid’, a fine engaging piece comprising of gritty percussive noise and manually manipulated drifts in the tradition of early KRAFTWERK, CLUSTER and the Fast Product period of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.

Floating over a rhythmic stutter, drones and repeated synth patterns shape ‘Nuclear Kites’ while utilising a subtle but speedy waltz beat, ‘Praxis’ offers abstract textures although its hooks help keep it from being totally obscure. The eerie resonances of the ‘Telepathic Heights’ title track do as instructed with minimal guitar providing additional harmonic tension inside a cavern of reverb, echoing elements of KRAFTWERK’s ‘Mitternacht’.

Retaining the six string and threatening at various point to turn into SUEDE, ‘Athanasia’ provides a less intense soundscape as a breather before ‘A Neural Interval’ provides a filmic interlude into the second half. ‘Synesius’ chills with subtle industrial elements but utilising E-bow, ‘The City Ships Of Alpha’ provides melodic focus to a flowing backdrop. ‘Dream Logic’ possesses an appealing iciness before providing what it says on the tin, ‘Abstract Machines’ closes the album with dystopian ambience.

With a particularly strong first half, ‘Telepathic Heights’ offers a heady but accessible listening experience. Its fresh but familiar soundtrack of electronic interventions will prove satisfying to enthusiasts of that classic Brain / Sky Records period of cosmic adventure, with the additional distinct touch of English discontent.

‘Telepathic Heights’ is released on 30 June 2023 by Soul Jazz Records as a CD or vinyl LP with download code, audio preview and pre-order available at https://soundsoftheuniverse.com/product/telepathic-heights

HAWKSMOOR opens for FENELLA on 10 June 2023 at London’s Courtyard Theatre in Hackney



Text by Chi Ming Lai
6 June 2023


In their earlier incarnation, THE HUMAN LEAGUE had a song called ‘4JG’, that JG being James Graham Ballard, the English Sci-Fi novelist best known for dystopian works such as ‘The Drowned World’, ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’, ‘Crash’ and ‘High-Rise’.

Other post-punk synthesizer exponents such as John Foxx, Daniel Miller and Gary Numan were also inspired by the imagery of JG Ballard’s bleak brutalist backdrops while the short story ‘The Sound-Sweep’ was the inspiration behind THE BUGGLES’ No1 hit ‘Video Killed the Radio Star. The tradition of JG Ballard influenced electronic music continues today.

‘Concrete Island’ takes its name from the 1974 JG Ballard novel; an artistic collaboration between Jonathan Sharpe and James McKeown who make music respectively as THE HEARTWOOD INSTITUTE and HAWKSMOOR, the pair came together remotely to capture the claustrophobia of the worldwide lockdown, soundtracking a Ballardian drama that was actually a stark reality.

Tracks would begin as modular loops, basslines or rhythms which were then exchanged, deconstructed and reworked, with a harsh aesthetic emerging to seed the cohesive theme of escape from a desolate concrete jungle. Initially released a year ago as a cassette, ‘Concrete Island’ now gets the traffic cone orange vinyl treatment by Spun Out Of Control.

With a cold disconnect and gradual build, ‘The Architect (An Arrogant Protagnonist)’ fittingly echoes John Carpenter. But ‘Through The Crash Barrier’ grinds in an industrial swirl of hypnotic noise that is strangely alluring. Just as ‘Crash’ featured a narrative about car crash sexual fetishism, people today still camp out at Die Nordschleife on track days in the hope of seeing car crashes to the point of it being almost primal.

Expanding on the vehicle collision theme, ‘Rainstorm / Burning Car’ brings conventional instrumentation into the mix but ‘Median Strip’ is covered in noise echoes for a mysterious air of unsettlement. Flipping over, ‘Fire Signal’ rises and reverberates with four string bass working in tandem with the repeating electronic variant within an icy cocoon. ‘Beast & Rider’ mind-bendingly throbs in its cosmic undulations but relief comes temporarily with the bass guitar inflected austere of ‘Delirium’.

‘A Pavilion Of Doors’ opens up a menacing spiral of sound while the weirdly danceable bonus track ‘Maitland’ acts as a sharp amalgamation of screech and bubbles. Fittingly dense, the dark moods of the closer ‘Escape’ drone, spike and clatter to recall THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘4JG’ phase but at a much more funereal pace.

An enjoyably tense listen with an anxious Ballardian gloom, the dystopian soundscapes captured on ‘Concrete Island’ tap into the fears of an uncertain futureworld. Things might be bleak but they are real too and in these strange times, reality has shown itself to be merciless.

‘Concrete Island’ is released on 24th June 2022 by Spun Out Of Control as an orange vinyl LP, available direct from https://spunoutofcontrol.bandcamp.com/album/concrete-island-2022-re-master




Text by Chi Ming Lai
20th June 2022