Category Archives: Rock In Opposition

Guapo – Elixirs from R.I.O

Guapo is a British experimental rock band formed by drummer Dave Smith and guitarist/vocalist Matt Thompson, joined by Guy Siddle also known as “Pid” they released their first CD “Towers Open Fire” in 1997. The album is sophisticated hardcore/punk, quite interesting, but not really symptomatic of the Guapo that I’m writing about today.

The first major step away from their Hardcore/Noise rock came with the album “Great Sage, Equal Of Heaven” (2000) taking the band into avant-garde rock territory. At this point “Pid” was no longer in the band but the album features free music improviser and saxophonist Caroline Kraabel.

On “Perfect Blue” Caroline Kraabel’s partner John Edwards plays Double Bass.

Another major development was the addition of multi-instrumentalist Daniel O’Sullivan, later know to have joined Norwegian experimental band Ulver in 2011.

Daniel O’Sullivan joined Guapo ‎for Five Suns released in 2004, adding Guitar, Organ,  Electric Piano (Fender Rhodes), Mellotron, Harmonium, Electronics. There was no woodwind instruments on this album.

What we got now is basically a power trio creating music that point in the direction of a mid-70’s instrumental prog rock. The inspiration is clearly King Crimson and the better 1970’s Jazz Rock albums, but that said Guapo finds their own unique style to make the journey interesting and not just a celebration of past times.

Most of the album is the title track, one long epic (the first 46 minute) split into 5 parts.

The trio made another album Black Oni (2005) but after that founding member Matt Thompson left. Guapo continued as a duo.

They released the next album Elixirs in 2008, besides some vocal the only guest was German Actor, Violinist and Viola player Sara Hubrich. Playing on the first track “Jeweled Turtle”

The direction of this album is less aggressive, we now got a slower atmospheric sound, leaving an overall dreamy, mystic and spiritual impression, although the album also explores harder styles and even a bit of Zappa’ish sounding passages.

When the “Rock in Opposition” festivals reappeared in 2008 and 2009 headlined by avant-garde names like Magma, Faust, Kōenji Hyakkei, Present and Univers Zero, Guapo was invited and have also played on several later editions of the French avant-garde festival.

Guapo continued with shifting lineup all the way up to present day, releasing albums in 2013 and 2015, sadly I do not know those albums and can’t comment on them, the band was playing on the The 10th Rock in Opposition festival September 2017.

Art Bears – Upon a wheel a cockerel crows

Art Bears became a member of the Rock in Opposition movement in December 1978 where the RIO members met in Sunrise Studio Kirchberg.

The band was formed by members of now disbanded Henry Cow

The debut was released May 1978, containing 9 tracks recorded by Henry Cow in January and 5 tracks by Art Bears in March 1978.

The album can be seen as a “last”  Henry Cow, but with more “song” orientated material than previous albums, as the instrumental recordings would mainly appear on Henry Cow’s Western Culture (1979).

Art bears: Hopes and Fears – “In Two Minds” (recorded by Henry Cow)

Art Bears first “true” album with songs intended for and preformed only by Art Bears came soon after, “Winter Songs” recorded in late 1978 and released in 1979.

This is my favorite Art Bears album, within its own genre a relative accessible piece of art, the band is now a trio with Fred Frith playing all instruments, Chris Cutler Drums & Percussion, topped with a stunning vocal by Dagmar Krause.

Upon a – wheel a – cockerel crows the – crimson dawn

There is a medival theme to the record, sending thoughts in direction of early 70’s masters like Jethro Tull or Gentle Gaint, underlined by some supreme violin from Frith.

The hermit sits – Before the fire – And toasts a fish – Upon a fork

Art Bears made a last album “The World as It Is Today” in late summer 1980 released in 1981, the radical political ambitions of the band is now even more evident with track like “”The Song of Investment Capital Overseas”.

I empty villages – I burn their houses down – I set up factories

The music also seems more inspired by “industrialism” with more repetitive themes that may reflect the machinery and work processes of modern day.

In my opinion a less inspired effort compared to Winter Songs but not bad at all, absolutely worth a listen or rather many listens, this is not music you can expect to digest or comprehend investing 30 minutes.





The Joy of Samla Mammas Manna

Samla Mammas Manna was formed in Uppsala, north of Stockholm , Sweden in 1969. They got a Record deal with Silence Records, and released their self-titled debut in the spring of 1971. Samla’s music was very playfull yet avant-gardistic, a kind of freeform Jazz/Rock with elements of Swedish folk tradition.
Samla have undergone name changes over the years, mainly due to changes in lineup. They also released albums as Zamla Mammaz Manna and von Zamla.

The form was further refined on their second album “Måltid” from 1973, where more elements of Frank Zappa’ish avant-garde, Jazz/Rock and Prog was added, “Måltid” stands as a highlight in their production.
Samla’s music has a wonderful sillyness, craziness and humour, very unique to the Scandinavian scene at the time, where everyone was very radical and focused on a political agenda.

Samla Mammas Manna, was part of the original “Rock in Opposition” movement, and took part in the first RIO festival in London. They participated in Several RIO events and Samla Mammas Manna also organized a festival in Stockholm. Samla Mammas Manna organized a Henry Cow tour in Sweden, and Etron Fou organized a tour for Samlas in France.


Lars Hollmer, the founding father and main creative force behind Samla, died 25 December 2008. But on the 2014 Japanese Rio festival held in November, his name, his music, and his spirit will be honoured, by Sola/Lars Hollmer’s global home project, a Band formed by Hollmer and Japanese Avant musician in 2001.

Lars Hollmer – The Global Home Project – 2002

The True Legend of Henry The Cow

Rock In Opposition, part 2 – Henry Cow.
The Core off Henry Cow was a trio, all multi instrumentalists credited with a wide range of instruments over their albums, Chris Cutler : drums, piano, trumpet, vocals, Whistle , Toy instruments ; Fred Frith : guitar, piano, violin, keyboards, bass, viola, xylophone, vocals ; Tim Hodgkinson : organ, clarinet, hawaiian guitar, piano, keyboards, saxophones, vocals. Besides the trio a series of other members and guest appeared in the band. The band was founded in the late 60’s but had it first record out in 1973.

From: The Henry Cow Legend 1973 (later released as Legend or Leg End on different labels)

Right from the debut Henry Cow played a highly sophisticated and complex combination of styles, seemingly inspired from as different directions as Progressive Rock like Soft Machine and Gentle Giant, Avant-garde Jazz, and Modern Classical music.

From Unrest 1974

During the middle of the 70’s, Henry Cow collaborated with another Avant-garde band, Slap Happy. Resulting in two 1975 albums, Slap Happy’s Desperate Straights and Henry Cow’s “In Praise Of Learning” both featuring members from both bands, notably German vocalist Dagmar Kraus, with whom Frith and Cutler would form Art Bears. Personally I prefer what they did with Art Bears, most of “In Praise Of Learning” seems to be too confused for my taste, but it does contain one masterpiece, with vocal extraordinary from Dagmar Kraus, the very beautiful “Beautiful as the Moon – Terrible as an Army With Banners”.

From “In Praise Of Learning” 1975

As a result of the work with Kraus, there was a disagreement within the band, about how much material should be song focused, and how much should be instrumental, as a result the material with songs was released as the “Art Bears” debut, and the instrumental work was released as Henry Cows final album, Western Culture. Even though Western Culture was Henry Cows last album, and a result of disagreement, today it seems as a highlight. The sound is great, and the music is still as fresh today as it was back then.
Uncompromising avant-garde at its best, as Henry Cow could do it so well, also a demanding album, most people won’t immediately enjoy. All the music was written by Tim Hodgkinson and female bassoon, oboe, sax player Lindsay Cooper, as all the Cutler/Frith material went to the Art Bears album.

From Western Culture 1979

Henry Cow was the founding force behind the RIO movement in 1978, shortly before the group would disband, and its members would move into different other band constellations.

Rock In Opposition

Rock In Opposition, part 1 – Introduction.
RIO came as a result of British avant-garde group Henry Cow’s frustration with the music industry in the late 70’s, having travelled in Europe for most of the 70’s, and met with other avant-garde bands, they came to the conclusion that the industry was only interested in the finances not the music, making it almost impossible to create an innovative art, within the system. They invited bands of similar interests to England, and created the first Rock in Opposition festival in 1978.

Japanese band Korekyojinn at the 2013 Rock In Opposition festival.

In the beginning it was a movement or organisation, but it has also become associated with a genre, used to describe an Avant-garde style of (Rock) music, incorporating elements from 20th century Classical music, free from Jazz and experimental Rock, into an eclectic highly complex progressive rock music. That said, not every RIO associated band, plays the same style of Avant-Garde so it is impossible to give a precise description. When the term is used as a genre it is sometimes associated with the works of Frank Zappa, but it would be more correct to say that he inspired many of the RIO acts.

Frank Zappa/The Mothers of Invention 1969

The original RIO festival included 5 different acts : Henry Cow (England), Stormy Six (Italy), Samla Mammas Manna (Sweden), Univers Zero (Belgium) and Etron Fou Leloublan (France). Soon the organisation also included Art Zoyd (France), Aksak Maboul (Belgium) and Art Bears (England), Art Bears was made of former Henry Cow members, as Henry Cow disbanded shortly after RIO was created.

Stormy Six – 1977

The organisation was short lived, but they had created attention, proved there was a need for a music not able to exist within the borders of the UK/US record industry, made a record company Recommended Records to distribute this music, and many bands have been inspired by them. The Rio movement is not dead, Rio festival are still held and new generations make RIO inspired albums.
Etron Fou Leloublan – live 1979

Koenji hyakkei – Hundred Sights of Koenji

Koenji hyakkei (高円寺百景), was a Japanese avant-garde band, debuting in 1994. Koenji hyakkei translates into “Hundred Sights of Koenji”, what is also the title on the debut album. Koenji being an area in Tokyo, with a young population and a lot of small “live music house” hosting a crowded live music scene. Koenji is known to be the birthplace of Japanese Punk.

Im not sure, but I can’t help thinking that the title is a reference to the popular series of woodblock prints, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (名所江戸百景 Meisho Edo Hyakkei ), published in 1856–59. The album cover also features (what seems to be ?) a woodblock print. Edo ( 江戸) was until 1868 the name for Tokyo.

One of the sights of Edo

Headed by the super talented drummer Tatsuya Yoshida, Koenji hyakkei is an offshoot of Japanese cult duo RUINS.

“Hundred Sights of Koenji” is a really dense blast, complex and extremely intense, if you are ready for some totally insane, high speed avant-garde, this is what you have been waiting for. If you prefer relative easy going melodic music, you should skip this one, and move to another post !
Koenji hyakkei clearly has inspiration from French “zeuhl” pioneers “Magma”, but even more extreme, sort of Jazz/heavy rock fusion, on amphetamine, topped by vocals, shouted and chanted in a fictive language, another reference to Magma. This is the direct opposite of easy listening, hard to cope the first 3-4 time you give it a go, but in there somewhere, is hidden moments of true brilliance, and the whole pack of madness is wrapped in wonderful musicality and technical virtuosity.


Koenji Hyakkei was part of the “2rd” Rock in Opposition movement or rather “reunion”, taking part in the 2009 festival in Carmaux, France and the 2014 Japanese edition in Tokyo.