[1] Sprawl is an artist led, London based underground playground and test tube for current sound. It was set up by Iris Garrelfs and Douglas Benford in 1996. Our events provide incubation periods for new and infectious ideas. This has included everything from serious turntable abuse, global internet link ups, virtual parties, minidisc doctoring and live music all rolled into splendid parties and festivals.

Our regular events have become a benchmark of experimental, electronic music. Artists featured have included Kim Cascone, Scanner, Talvin Singh, Kaffe Matthews, Christian Fennesz, Hayley Newman and more. Other events include the Interplay Festival, Sonic Recycler, the Groundswell Festival at ICA, Presenting Vladislav Delay - a concert organised in conjunction with the Tate Modern’s educational department and the Finnish Institute.

To celebrate our 10th anniversary in January 2006, an Epiphany detailing our journey appeared the Wire Magazine. We have also made a few mp3s available for dowload which you can at http://www.thewire.co.uk/web/mp3specials.php. On the occasion of our 15th anniversary in January 2011, Douglas and Iris compiled a chart of their 15 favoured releases over those 15 years for the Wire Magazine. Find both below.

Please read the article below and check listings for current and past artists for, well, past details.

[2] The Sprawl Imprint is structured around the same fault lines and features releases by artists such as Scanner, Freeform, Osymyso and conceptual compilations such as Hmm, an album of international hymns and anthems and other investigations of childhood influences featuring David Toop, Kreidler, Kit Clayton, Vladislav Delay, Antye Greie-Fuchs (of Laub), Freeform, Wang Inc, Shenton Engine [of Add N to (x)], Benge, Opiate (Björk collaborator), Wiggle (Ken Ishii collaborators), Farben, Matrix, Carl Stone, Kaffe Matthews and more.

For information on all releases and how to order please click here.

[3] The vaults feature pre-2000 releases of Douglas Benford's Suburbs Of Hell label and Pantunes Music at ridiculously cheap clear-out-the stock-room prices. Your chance to get hold of some early Sarah Cracknell and - dare we say it - Momus ...

You can find out more about Sprawl's curataors Douglas and Iris by visting www.douglasbenford.org.uk and www.irisgarrelfs.com

 

 

The Sprawl 15th Anniversary chart

To celebrate 15 years of Sprawl, Douglas and Iris compiled a chart of their 15 favoured releases over those 15 years for the Wire Magazine.

appeared in the Wire Magazine, issue 324 February 2011

 

EPIPHANIES

10 years after being inspired to present electonic music on a human scale, Iris Garrelfs and Douglas Benford look back on the revelations of London's Sprawl club

 

appeared in the Wire Magazine, issue 263 January 2006

 

Perhaps it's a mundane cliche that many ideas are dreamt up in drinking dens, in Sprawl's case it's true. Wind back to late 1995, London. Iris, a transplanted German had been working as a photographer, was studying sound engineering and switching from performing music in prison officer's clubs and such like to recording electronics, at that time as 'BitTonic'. Douglas had a day job as magazine designer (churning out fishing titles, if you really must know), keeping himself sane at night by running the Suburbs of Hell label, and creating his own music under various guises, primarily 'si-{cut}.db'.

The background to this time was the social melee of Robin Rimbaud's Electronic Lounge at the ICA - a major influence not just on ourselves - Sunday afternoons at the Big Chill, the rise of internet and Xenakis quoting Djs. Other club inspirations along the way included the Rumpus Rooms, Anohka, Metalheadz. Electronica seemed to sizzle with excitement as drum & bass, and sub genres such as IDM, Drill & Bass, Illbient, and all sorts of warped sounds were impacting. Creative possibilities seemed endless, and we really wanted to hear it all - as often as possible, and with like-minded people. Then, one cold November evening in a dingy Kentish Town pub, were Iris had arranged for us to play a small performance, we realised that nobody was going to do it for us.

The concert wasn't all that well attended, but we did get a nice turn out of musician pals. We were excited and imagined further activities, possibly a regular event. Days later we migrated to a pub in Highbury to discuss the practicalities of the new venture. Iris came up with the name, Sprawl, a term straight out of her favoured William Gibson series, The Sprawl trilogy, suggesting future technologies, unhealthy tentacled growth and off-corporate shenanigans. We felt Sprawl ought to be somewhere contemporary, implying these future possibilities. An 'Internet Cafe'? In late 1995 there were maybe three or four of these places in the whole of London - and after some scouting trips settled on the Cafe Internet in Victoria, London. Then 'The net' seemed novel to us, now we couldn't exist without it.

DJ Spooky headlined our first ever night, thanks to the LMC's Ed Baxter. Not a bad start, the venue certainly had never been that busy! There's no doubt that Cafe Internet, which we used for about a year, had its problems. Mainly: no sound system, so we had to hire a PA. Compounded with slightly philistine managers, who enjoyed the bar takings but had little sympathy with the music. But we liked the shiny computers, folk checking mails and playing games. Then of course there was a neighbour complaining about the noise, despite us finishing at 11.30pm. This ended up with the farcical situation of local council noise monitors standing next to the speakers during an almost silent set by Sprawl perrenial Simon Fisher Turner, trying to get any kind of reading on their meters! Simon had decided to 'go microsound' in sympathy with us.

We soon learnt that audiences were not always easy to attract. In those early days we had steady stream of artists headliners: Spring Hill Jack, Talvin Singh, Andrew Weatherall, Kaffe Matthews, David Cunningham, Scanner, as well as the Warp-Planet Mu-Ninja-Leaf-Swim-Clear-Language-Lo-Dot-etc related artists, plus a complement of lesser-knowns. Many an artist returned as listener on later occasions, and many a listener mutated into performer. The usual Sprawl night also incorporated non-music aspects, with visuals from D-Fuse, Waveform Graphics, an exhibition from the Designers Republic, plus the occasional CD-Rom/website launches, generative software demos, internet broadcasts. We even had our own mini-magazine and initially issued membership cards (Card number 1 has just been unearthed in Japan!).

A year or so later, the first venue was exchanged for the more empathetic Global Cafe, another 'net cafe in Golden Square, Soho. This had an in-house PA, a suitcase sized video projector and a great atmosphere, though we would always be fighting with blown speakers (apologies to Mr Vladislav Delay), chancers running in and stealing the door takings, and corporate double-bookings. Memories of the six years or so here include steamed-up windows, cinematic visuals, with varied audiences of hushed awe or indifferent endless chat over the music, but then we always did enjoy the social side. (Douglas would also like to apologise to Jamie Lidell at this point for not knowing who he was and refusing him entrance as he didn't have the cash to get in...so sat forlorn outside on the pavement.)

Come 2000 the UK electronica flux seemed to burn out of ideas. Driven by our own personal leanings, we veered towards to the German scene, especially the Berlin and Cologne based audio-scapes, but also sounds and improvisations emanating from other parts of Europe, San Francisco, Canada and Australia. Our taste today has found common ground with other London based organisations - the London Musicians Collective, the Sonic Arts Network, Resonance FM.

Personal mini-epiphanic musical moments for us have included (in no-specific order) Oren Ambarchi, Mapstation with Soul Static Sound's 'D', Rosy Parlane, Minit, Stephan Mathieu, Rothko, Vert, Janek Schaefer, Steve Beresford, Curd Duca, Jem Finer, Sutekh, Paul Hood, Peter Cusack, Un Caddie Renverse dans l'Herbe, Bohman Bros, Akira Rabelais, Matt Rogalsky. The list is endless. Other memories: Antye Greie Fuchs wonderful vocals in Laub-mode; bumping into Baby Ford at IKEA and twisting his arm into doing a set for us; a brief ecstatic burst of beautiful static by Kim Cascone before his computer crashed; Mattin's equally brief but fab windtunnel of audio.

It is rather sad that after 10 years, the proliferation of DJ bars with mostly mono soundsystems (!) there are still very few venues in London that cater to smaller non-rock concerts. On two occasions now we have visited venues to confirm the following week's Sprawl only to find that the place is just about to be demolished or closed down (RIP the Global Cafe and The Lifthouse). Hence it has been refreshing to do a few extra-curricula Sprawls - our first festival Compass at the Cockpit theatre in 1997, then the Groundswell event at the ICA (where the audio relay from the theatre was banned in the bar by the bar staff), and the Interplay mini-festival at the Spitz (which we plan to tour through and outside the UK next year). In between there have been collaborations with Tate Modern, the CCA in Glasgow and others. But then, as now, we have tried to keep our monthly Sprawl events simple and self-financing; it's still important to us to have somewhere sympathetic to try out new ideas, somewhere new artists can grow into performing live without the pressure of attracting vast audiences.

Many more people have turned to making music as software and laptops have become more powerful; gone are the days when an artist would haul in a desktop PC. Small labels, CD-R releases and MP3s have proliferated - and music sales having tailed off. As artists have become more mobile they are also more trans-portable, thanks to the growth of budget airlines.

Wanting to tap into the zeitgeist of the electronic music scene on our own terms, was looking back on it, a leap into the unknown. Little did we realise that 10 years later we would still be in transit; music tastes changed, the landscape evolved, but our initial urge to keep our ears out for new sounds remains intact.