Winter’s icy grip may be choking the season, but for York’s most curious musical export – Chalices of the Past – the summer never ended. Readying the release of third record 2 Rude, Chalices of the Past (Gus Beamish-Cook amongst friends) creates all-encompassing psychedelic electronica from the modest surroundings of his bedroom, describing his output as comparable to “rediscovering your own soul in a third dimension inhabited by diamond owls, haunted kneecaps and time bending chalices filled with the blood of a thousand stags”. Initially emerging from the chiptune scene, his music has evolved to feed off a broad smorgasbord of influence, with everyone from Max Tundra and Gay Against You to Sizzla and The Beach Boys bubbling in his anodic cauldron. Past releases on Brazilian label Chippanze and the UK’s Kittenrock have brought him salivating acclaim in the blogosphere, while relocating from ‘drum and bass dens in Bury St. Edmunds’ to the York scene via gigs at Stereo and the City Screen Basement supporting the likes of Railcars has resulted in hysterical footwork from an unsuspecting audience. Beamish-Cook strikes an imposing figure; his majestic beard and swarthy tan might offer the impression of a nimble Greek fisherman were it not for his dress sense, which is more comparable to that of a 70s African funk freedom fighter.
His last record, WIZARDZZZ, was his finest and most accessible work yet, welding psych-druidic lyrical mythology to fizzing beats and creamy hooks. He suggests that his new record will go further down the same route; “If WIZARDZZZ was the afterparty, then 2 Rude is the hotel lobby. The party’s getting better, but it’s getting more personal.” The intense storms of noise that perpetuated his early work have calmed, but still leave an unsettling heavy residue on what are, essentially, pop songs. “Having really, really loud drums is a good thing, but it’s also nice to actually have songs as well. So I tried to work out a middle ground between those two things,” he asserts, stony-faced. “I still try to take some of the chip aesthetic, using samples of old circuit-bent drum machines and samples from Gameboys as well, but I think there’s a certain musical aesthetic that’s expected if you just use Gameboys. And that’s not my kind of thing – it’s boring and ugly, so many people do it and I just don’t want to be involved.” Somewhat disillusioned with the hundreds of chiptune artists that the internet has coughed up, Chalices not only succeed in bringing far-removed influences into a lo-fi electronic context – the new album apparently sounds “way more dancehall” – but also bring an captivating lyrical edge to an often instrumentally focused genre.
When pressed to explain the bizarre zooniverse of his lyrical world – a place where walnuts, mammoths and owls congregate in various tropical milieus, Beamish-Cook reveals a simple organic process. Conversations and various seemingly innocuous events feed his imagination; for example the song ‘Power Animal Friendship Discourse’ was formed by a friend “talking about when he was wasted and thought he saw a spirit wolf” while others stem from boating holidays or drunken nattering with his girlfriend Amy. Creating the magical out of the ordinary seems to be a fundamental pillar of Chalices of the Past, as, like some sort of techno-thaumaturge, he squeezes extraordinary sounds out of Gameboys, synthesizers, toy keyboards and whatever else happens to be lying around. Similarly, live performances aren’t the usual man-behind-a-computer stationary affairs. As Gus elucidates, “if you go to a gig, it’s way more fun if it’s more of an event than if it’s just seeing a band play. I usually try to establish some sort of rapport with the audience. In the future I want to bring out quilts and stuff, maybe some jelly, some pens as well, get people to do portraits of me …” This initiative has resulted in gigs feeling more like drug-addled children’s birthday parties than mere recitals.
As well as summoning psychedelia beyond his means and warping gigs into dreams, Chalices of the Past has become known as a project that does really, really awesome cover versions. Yes, a cover of LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Someone Great’ showed his skill in re-imagining, but more preposterous attempts, such as a chiptune manifestation of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, really boggle minds. Especially when triumphantly performed as a curtain-call. Justifying this choice, Gus muses “I think it just comes from a really deep emotional place. You can’t really deny it. You want to pick a song that means something, and I think ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ probably means the most.” He’s tried his hand at remixing, but feels that he gets too carried away – a recent effort for local band Lost From Atlas resulted in only “one chord” of their original track being used.
This is symptomatic of the Chalices of the Past ethic; a project that absorbs seemingly everyday things and mutates them unrecognisably through a technicolour voltaic dimension. Creating music and experiences of a truly singular and pleasantly mind-altering kind, he’s a treasure of the local scene, offering a sunny but oddly hued holiday in your cranium every time you put the headphones on. As the man himself says, “I’ve got a theoretical beach in my mind; I’m just trying to get there.”