Woodleigh Research Facility and The Vacant Lots

Freewheeling through time and space, Kris Needs continues his adventures in sound. This month: Woodleigh Research Facility and The Vacant Lots

Things are hotting up on the ranch, including the outrageously fun Into The Cosmic Hutch podcast presented by Nina and me, and the long-awaited release of Woodleigh Research Facility’s ‘Borderland’, one of the last pieces Nina worked on with Mr Weatherall at her Facility 4 studio before his untimely passing. Intended for a Barbican event that sadly never happened, it’s a work of astonishing beauty, already being likened to a hymn.

“I wrote ‘Borderland’ on this little MIDI keyboard I had in the programming room I’d set up for Andrew,” explains Nina. “When he heard it, he said, ‘This really reminds me of ‘Smokebelch’. That was just in raw form on synth.”

She suggested bringing in renowned classically trained viola player Sarah Sarhandi to embellish the poignantly reflective melody.

“We then handed it to Andrew who arranged it, plundered the hard drive and added elements like his favourite tom-tom fill.”

After Andrew’s heart-tingling mountain glistener of a mix, the epic 2021 version by Jagz Kooner, who’d worked on the original as Weatherall’s right- hand man during the Sabres years, fulfils the ‘Smokebelch’ vision. After the jittering synth intro, derived from Frankie Knuckles’ ‘Your Love’, sets the scene, Jagz builds the melody to an emotionally charged peak, turning Sarah’s viola into a swelling string section on the drop as Andrew’s voice whispers, “Can you see the rockets?”. It may bring tears as Jagz pays tribute to his fallen comrade – ‘Smokebelch’ style.

The track, which previously had the working title ‘Yanob 14’, was renamed ‘Borderland’ by Nina after a 19th century parapsychological journal edited by pioneering journalist WT Stead. The fourth release in her ongoing ‘Apparently Solo’ series is possibly the most significant so far – and wait until you hear ‘Phonox Nights’, the pair’s last album created together.

Elsewhere, a deliciously Suicide-related season is brewing with Martin Rev’s upcoming ‘The Sum Of Our Wounds (Cassette Recordings 1973-85)’. Also worthy of investigation is ‘Interiors’, the fifth album from NY duo The Vacant Lots that sees Jared Artaud – curator of the Vega Vault with Liz Lamere – and Brian MacFadyen churning deeper into their riveting gothic processionals, space disco mutants and sonorous eulogies for collapsing modern society.

Like a pre-gentrification NY dirt-bomb booming from their Brooklyn bunker, Artaud’s heavily reverbed vocals evoke scarred soul turmoil on titles like ‘Amnesia’, ‘Evacuation’ and ‘Destruction’ splattering like aural graffiti on a burned-out building. Suicide’s spirit is alive and kicking. After Nina’s ‘Punkadelic!’ biography, I’ll be writing Martin Rev’s ‘New York Music City’.

WRF’s ‘Borderland’ is out on Bandcamp. The Vacant Lots’ ‘Interiors’ is released by Fuzz Club

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