Brooding brutalism

There’s a touch of hauntology at work in this oddly evocative album, with its liminal soundscapes and uniquely British sensibility. Interim Report, March 1979 comes care of record label Castles in Space, who seem keen to champion music that exists out there at the frayed edges of the electronic music genre.

The inspired mind behind the album is Gordon Chapman Fox, who viewed the concept as a statement on Cheshire’s brutalist beauty, particularly in the new town post-war developments of Warrington and Runcorn. Chapman grew up in the north and was intrigued by the contrast between the utopian vision that the city planners had envisioned for the towns, with the grim reality of the developments in real life. “The estates of Runcorn were space-age futurist with external plumbing” muses Chapman Fox, “rounded windows and raised walkways. But as housing, they were a failure.”

Somehow, it seems fitting that Chapman’s approach should embrace electronic compositions that have a physical, analogue aspect to them. Interim Report, March 1979 delivers compelling and eerie moods that seem to conjure up some 1970s lost landscape. In delivery, the music calls to mind Tangerine Dream crossed with Boards Of Canada.

Part of the hypnotic draw of the material comes from the track titles, which have a combination of utopian dreams and drab reality: ‘Castlefields’, ‘The Town Of Tomorrow’ and ‘Gateway To The Future’ could easily be subtitles from some lost property brochure. There’s a sense of optimism that’s been dented, which serves up strange, mesmerising moments that have an unsettling quality lurking in their depths. This deliberate effort to capture a sound that reflected the brutalist architecture of the new towns was also a push against scripting something too familiar. “It seemed like there were a lot of ersatz-soundtracks to lost John Carpenter films, or obscure giallo “classics”” offers Chapman Fox, “I preferred to find inspiration from the surreality of the mundane.”

This, of course, isn’t the first time that TEC has delved into haunting, ethereal soundtrack work. Back in 2017 we were piqued by the hypnotic, discordant work of Dalham (see review previously). Unsurprisingly, Dalham is now under the banner of label Castles In Space.

Because electronic music is such a broad field, it will serve up quirky concepts that run counter to classic synth-pop or the beats-orientated appeal of contemporary electropop. Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan certainly meets that criteria, but it also deviates from the more experimental end of electronic music (which can often be interesting in theory, but unlistenable in practice).

Instead, Interim Report, March 1979 manages to preserve engaging electronica compositions that perfectly reflect a mundane British mood. It invites reflection while also inspiring visual narratives that have a charm, despite their bleakness.

Interim Report, March 1979 is out now.

Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan have live performances scheduled for this summer: