“Who the fuck is Arthur Seedon?” A retrospective on the life and times of Arficeden

A think piece from the mind of Nick Duke

A think piece from the mind of Nick Duke

Arficeden – The band that fucked it all off before they could be lauded as the musical heroes that they were. From knowing them however, it was seemingly never really about that for them. History is revisionist and is written by the “winners”, but as they’re no longer with us, we’re all losers… and if there’s any revision to be made, it’s to plant them firmly on the musical road map where they deserve to be.

Kendal and latterly Barrow-In-Furness probably aren’t the first places you’d go looking for a fertile and expressive music scene. However, it takes a special kind of utter, picturesque boredom to urge a group of teens to get together and create something so wildly complex, elastically grooving, expansive and taught all at the same time. It’s the sound of three people simultaneously expressing themselves and experimenting with sonics in a way that only comes along and coalesces in a certain beautiful way, very infrequently.

The mid-late 2000s were a strange time for a lot of bands that I knew in Manchester. There seemed to be a ton of people who’d been playing for a few years and making their own weird and wonderful noises, who realised there were others vaguely like them, in mind set if not sound. We’d be joining each other frequently to play (pretty much TO each other) in dank basement venues that smelled of shit, on line ups that we would each put on for a few pound coins.
(One of the biggest influences of this nascent scene has to be Phil who ran Beat Promotions, an absolute gent and champion of amazing music from all genres. He really did it for the love of music because he was getting paid fuck all, giving most – if not all – the money to the bands, engineering and promoting the shows himself to save on overheads)

It was after post-hardcore, during post-rock, and pre-Math rock in that particular subsection of grimy Manchester underground. There was a lot of grasping around in the dark to find ‘your sound’, and then Arficeden would rock up and smash out these incredible, awe-inspiring, deafeningly loud sets that made you want to cry with frustration. Invariably you’d have to play after them and try and salvage some modicum of self-respect from your set.

The first time I really saw them, I’d not been expecting what was to unfold before me. Having gone in with little to no idea who they were, I ended up having to pick my jaw up off the floor on the way out. Tracks like Japan and ‘Penny for the Middleman‘ were brutalising when amped up to the nth degree, but always retained that huge wide screen cinematic breadth. Med’s guitar playing was always a topic of discussion between other players: “How’s he getting those noises?” “What pedals does he use?” Then you’d go and check after they had played and it’d be the most simplistic set up in the world. Just a whole lot of skill and vision.
Stu’s bass playing was equal parts groovy and off kilter. Jumping around the beat like it was attached with a slightly over-stretched elastic band that could snap back on the kick drum at any given moment, and never one to shy away from electronic noise, he managed to incorporate otherworldly distorted samples and glitches to enhance rather than muddy the songs. Finally, the mutable Dan Payne on drums. A force of nature when behind the kit, a mere slip of a boy when we first met him but wiser in his playing than most people I know today, able to defy what rational sense dictated was ‘a drum beat in a song’. Dan’s playing seemed to evolve from gig to gig, where you had a general sense of how a song should go, but he wasn’t ready to quite let himself get bored by a set structure or beat.

In these recordings, there are a lot of tropes, sounds, textures and ways of playing that we now take for granted, as the proliferation of post/math rock in the UK has spread far and wide.  However, Arficeden stood alongside bands like Burnst, Hot Bone and GNOD, on the beach throwing the stones into the water, making ripples that would become the tidal wave of Math Rock in the UK. Listening specifically to ‘DOMO CD CIDEX‘ sadly only hints at a much bigger, much richer, sonic experience, one that I still long for today. Japan now brings back lots of memories of standing around in gleeful anticipation, waiting to hear a bunch of amazing noise come flying at your entire being for half an hour or so. Then it’d be over and you’d be all the better off, but also saddened by its passing.

To add to that sadness, ‘ceden didn’t go out with a bang. They retreated away to go reclaim their lives, to go do ‘new stuff’ as well as other stuff, leaving us wondering how we could ever carry on what we each had without them being around to challenge us, to push us each time we had a gig together. I’ve begged them to get back together for ‘one last show’, but until now it’s never happened. Though thanks to this collection of noises being popped in one handy place, maybe some renewed interest will convince them that they should get back up and claim some of that limelight that they so richly deserve – and fucking play some awesome, loud, brilliant music at everyone else’s heads and bodies again.

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