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About Bruce Russell

This New Zealand Artist and producer was affiliated with the Flying Nun label, the indie cult that spawned the Kiwi-Pop sound of the Tall Dwarves, Verlaines, and the Chills in the '80s. During this period he started to run Xpressway cassettes, his own label for skewed songwriters. The label became the platform for the post-Flying Nun sound and released cassette albums, many of which were reissued on the U.S. indie labels Drag City and Ajax as CDs and vinyl in the '90s. During this splurge of reissuing of cult records from that small Pacific Island, much attention was drawn to the label and particularly to Russell's group the Dead C. The official release catalog of Xpressway includes solo albums by brothers Peter Jefferies, The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World, and Graham Jefferies, Messages for the Cakekitchen, which are both highly acclaimed: many critics considered these two records to be of the calibre of John Cale's, Brian Eno's, or Kevin Ayers' solo works.

Russell gave up being the curator of a label recognized for producing some of the greatest Anglo songwriting of the time, which had influenced the American and U.K. lo-fi noise and pop scene immensely in the '90s. He closed shop after spawning the scene that introduced bands such as Sebadoh and Pavement. Members of those bands acknowledged the influence of Russell's group the Dead C., who formed in 1985 with guitarist Michael Morley of Gate and Robbie Yeats, drummer with the Verlaines. In the early '90s, Russell founded a new and equally influential label, Corpus Hermeticum, and began to go farther away from rock with his noise guitar experiements. As well as publisihing his own material, his label championed a music that would be called "free noise." Releases include CDs by Flying Saucer Attack, Thurston Moore, and Tom Surgal, A Handful of Dust (Alistair Galbraith and Bruce Russell's noise duo), and the compilation Le Jazz Non. This showcase is as much a "free noise manifesto" in sound as it is a time piece from a movement of seminal post rock. His admirers include Sonic Youth, who wore the inspiration of this movement on their sleeves, especially in their late '90s work.

Russell, quite the scholar, produced a series of manifestoes with his labels releases; clearly the punk academic discussing theory and the politics of the experimentation in sound. The most notable of these publications is an interview with Alan Licht, guitarist of the alternative groups Run On and Lovechild, who, like Thurston Moore, liked to spar with improvising post-free jazz experimenters when not writing blissful pop songs. His ingeniously titled Corpus Hermeticum album The Evan Dando of Noise from 1996 contained a collection of letters between curator and artist that would challenge most Musicologists and cultural theorists alike. Corpus Hermeticum has the aesthetic of a home industry, recycled card sleeves are the uniform package for the releases, and it should be noted that the New Zealander was using this design long befor it became the standard alternative to the jewel case. The releases are usually in limited-edition CDs, but he has also produced vinyl, 7", and cassette releases. In the '90s, he produced records by Surface of the Earth, Lovely Midget, Doramaah, and Birchville Cat Motel, and is somewhat of a godfather to this tangent of indie noise. All of Bruce Russell's work falls under the experimental banner, however some consider his work to be post-rock in the most literal sense of the term. Russell is a noise guitarist, along the lines of '70s Fred Frith (see Frith's "guitar solos") British experimental free-improvisation group Amm, or the Japanese guitarist Keiji Haino. His work can be heard on the albums of the Dead C., his own ensemble A Handful of Dust, as well as his solo album Painting the Passports Brown which explores drone-based musique concrete rather than improvised electric guitar.

He was inspired by early-'80s Rough Trade Records artists Captain Beefheart, Can, John Coltrain, Albert Ayler, and Don Cherry, as well as the European jazz improvisation school of artists such as Evan Parker and Paul Lovens. Bruce Russell a challenging experimental musician. A mixture of avant-gardist academia, free jazz ethos, and exhilarating rock noise. ~ Sylvie Harrison


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