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sUburbAn subsOnIcs

By James Barry

It started with the sound of a hammer striking a giant, rusty and long-empty water tank. A mid-tour demonstration of the acoustics of 22 miles of ancient man-made caves. Thirty seconds of trailing natural reverb later, an idea was born. 


The result is ‘Subterranean: Live at Chislehurst Caves’ a film that documents a noise guitar and synth performance in my Kowa Axis guise. 

Exploring the caves now, you’d never imagine this was a thriving venue in the 1960s and 70s. A leafy southeast London suburb, Chislehurst and counterculture aren’t what anyone would call natural bedfellows in 2024.

At my all-boys school, the kids really into wargames used to come to these caves to dress up and have battles. They’d bring their foam swords to school and their crossbows that fired wine corks. 


But on this day, there would be no mock battles, or even real human sacrifices like those that used to occur down here. Instead, there would be an attempt to resurrect, even exhume, the long-lost counterculture spirit in Chislehurst.

As we loaded in the absolute overkill levels of amps and cabs – a task that involved hauling them hundreds of feet into the caves across bumpy rock and sand – I wasn’t thinking about the ancient romans, druids or the locals sheltering here from bombs during the Second World War. I wasn’t even thinking of my old classmates pretending to be real life Warhammer miniatures. 


In my mind was the image of the hundreds of people who once flocked here for gigs and club nights. Hendrix played down here. Pink Floyd. The Stones. I’m told Siouxsie worked behind the bar. 


There was once an amazing music scene here, one that was truly underground. It’s a scene that’s now as much a ghost as the ancient ones that supposedly haunt this place. What better way to wake the long-dead than with guitar feedback and subsonic synths? 


I performed two new pieces, alongside reinterpreting two from my 2021 double album ‘Ones And Threes’ (Trepanation Recordings), using the natural acoustics of the caves to bounce soundwaves from every surface. 


Chris Purdie’s direction makes the most of the deep location while also getting in close to capture the creaks, clanks, rumbles and howls of feedback as they happen.


Set to be released later this year, with an accompanying soundtrack album, ‘Subterranean: Live at Chislehurst Caves’ is a unique document of a unique performance. My very own secret war on suburbia.


Watch 'Echoes And Apparitions' from Subterranean:Live at Chislehurst Caves here.

Listen to 'Echoes and Apparitions' on Bandcamp here.

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