If counter-cultural icon Don Van Vliet – aka Captain Beefheart – were ever to abandon painting and come out of musical retirement, then he truly couldn't find a more appropriate recording home than Junior Aspirin Records (formed in 2002, based in London). For one, the label is highly sympathetic to visual artists: Skill 7 Stamina 12, one of Junior Aspirin's bands, includes artists Maaike Schoorel and Nathaniel Mellors, along with writer Dan Fox; while both Polly Braden and David Noonan have contributed artwork to the label. Moreover, The Captain would need look no further than Junior Aspirin musicians for recruits for a re-formed Magic Band: Skill 7 Stamina 12's Ashley Marlowe is one of the few living drummers who can rightfully claim rhythmic lineage from the Magic Band's John French. Even if Junior Aspirin don't manage to sign Beefheart, they needn't worry. The label works with London's own genius avant-garde redneck bluesman, The Rebel – BR Waller of the Country Teasers. The music of Skill 7 Stamina 12 is in part a continuation of 1970s experimentalism, the elliptical groove on tracks such as '80 Metres' from the album Skill 7 Stamina Dead (2007), for instance, revisiting German rock innovators CAN in 1969. Meanwhile, Maaike Schoorel's vocals, positioned somewhere between Ari Up of The Slits and Stereolab's Laetitia Sadler, link the band's music to New York's downtown scene of the early 1980s. Similarly, Spritza Boy (2005), by Junior Aspirin stalwarts Socrates That Practices Music (Andy Cooke, Alex Ellerington, Jared Fisher and Grigoris Leontiades), sounds like the ethnic punk-funk of Eric Random & the Bedlamites, obscure early 1980s Cabaret Voltaire associates for all we know, the record could be a dance-floor bomb in the small clubs of hipster Williamsburg, where such African hi-life inspired no wave is all the rage again). But Junior Aspirin is not mired in replicating music of past eras. Emphasising the artful eclecticism of the label, Junior Aspirin's first compilation, Remove Celebrity Centre (2006), featured such diverse sounds as the visceral hardcore of Charlottefield; the toy-town Krautrock of Imitation Electric Piano; DJ Scotch Egg's frenetic Game-boy techno; and contributions from moonlighting artists Jack Too Jack (Mark Leckey, Steven Claydon, Ed Liq and Kieron Livingstone), Emily Wardill and Sue Tompkins. As a loose identity for a network of bands and performers, and with a spasmodic series of releases, Junior Aspirin Records exists in an ambiguous and shifting territory between the art world and the music industry.
Just as the influence of experimental bands from the 1970s and 1980s is visible in the counter-cultural sensibility and look of contemporary visual art, so too has recording and playing live become integral to many artists' practices; the playfulness of performance and musical abstraction providing critical tools for considering the 'avant' instincts of experimentalism. Junior Aspirin epitomises this approach: fusing the artistic and the extrovert their next release is The R&B Feeling, an album of raw psychedelic gospel, lo-fi hip-hop and soul from Bob Parks, a maverick artist operating on the fringes of the 1970's art scene in Los Angeles. In a similar manner to Remove Celebrity Centre, Junior Aspirin's Nought to Sixty event draws together live performances that highlight their output, building on the tangents and associations that make up the social fabric of the label.
Tony F Wilson