Playlist | August 29, 2014
The Sounds of Scarfolk

scarfolk council

Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. “Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay.” For more information please reread.

So reads the website header of Scarfolk Council, the governing body of a town forced to relive the 1970s over and over again. Being stuck in an endless loop has caused the town to take on some “quirks” in the form of laws, businesses and social practices, the least strange of which include Scarecrow Biology, Mayan football and Totalitarian Salad Cookbooks. It’s an unusual, sometimes frightening, but always fascinating place.


(The Scarfolk Council sometimes releases audio/video propaganda like the piece above. You can hear/see more here.)

We recently caught up with the mayor of Scarfolk and asked him to compile a list of songs that he thinks best describe his town. He gladly obliged and put together the 11-track playlist (along with some words of his own) you will find below.

To learn more about Scarfolk we suggest you visit the Council’s official website. You can also stay up-to-date on all town happenings via their Facebook and Twitter. Most importantly, make sure to pre-order the upcoming book “Discovering Scarfolk” (out October 16th), which recounts the experiences of a family that has become trapped in the town. It comes with a free map and rabies hand wipes.


1. John Baker – “Festival Time”
John Baker, who worked in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop from 1963 to 1974, had an immediately recognisable sound. This short theme serves as our introduction and may also remind many British 40-somethings of his title theme to the children’s TV news programme “John Craven’s Newsround”.


2. Concretism – “The Wiccan Circle”
Concretism’s uncanny TV themes, adverts and public information film soundtracks come from the same dark corner of Britain as Scarfolk. This track perfectly captures the early 1970s clash between interest in the occult/folklore and science in the form of both burgeoning and promised future technologies.


3. Oneohtrix Point Never – “Zones Without People”
In the late 1960s and early 70s, we continued to be sold a vision of a utopian future: “How we will live in the year 2000″. Reminiscent of works by minimalist composers such as Terry Riley, “Zones without People”, in both name and tone, seems to be the soundtrack to a possible future automated by computers; something that was intended to be liberating but somehow, at the time, felt more ominous and dystopian.


4. Inigo Kilborn – “A Tune For Lucy”
This Chappell Music Library piece was one of many that accompanied the BBC daytime “schools and colleges” programme countdown screens in the 1970s. Children usually only heard it if they were off sick from school (which I frequently was), so, when listening to it now, please try to imagine that you have a fever and ensure that you have a mouthful of Lucozade.


5. Belbury Poly – “The Willows”
Belbury Poly, like The Advisory Circle (see below) and other artists on the Ghost Box Music label, was among the first to hark back to the specifically British incidental music that accompanied our 1970s childhoods. Evoking the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, library music and film scores, Belbury Poly continues to produce music that suggests lost TV programme themes, channel idents and continuity, while also being unmistakably modern.


6. Tangerine Dream – “Sequent C”
Although avant-garde, or at least unconventional, music had already been introduced into the mainstream (The Beatles’ “Revolution #9”, for example), popular music in the early 70s was still very much about guitars, drums, bass, keyboard and vocals, even with Prog acts such as Genesis and Yes, who, like Tangerine Dream, had begun to explore extended tracks. Along with Klaus Schulze, and later Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream’s ambient, side-long electronic soundscapes must have been quite extraordinary at the time.


7. Boards Of Canada – “Open The Light”
No hauntology playlist is complete without Boards of Canada. They seem to have singlehandedly created a new genre of electronic music that permits the listener access to long-lost childhood memories of the 1970s and early 80s. In fact, I have it on good authority that they actually steal memories from children which they store in a big mirror to later convert into music using witchcraft, hypnosis and double-sided sticky tape.


8. Glynis Johns – “Veils And Mirrors”
This is the 2nd BBC Radiophonic Workshop track in the playlist. I avoided Delia Derbyshire simply because many people have in recent times become more aware of her works, such as “Blue Veils and Golden Sands”. It’s arguable that the Radiophonic Workshop was the most influential music source for a whole generation of British kids, albeit without them being consciously aware of it, because the Workshop’s sounds surreptitiously infiltrated our homes on a daily basis. I could have easily created a playlist that exclusively contains Radiophonic audio.


9. The Advisory Circle – “Fire, Damp & Air”
This track somehow reminds me of being in bed as a small child listening to the echo of the TV downstairs. As a child that suffered from night terrors, even the most innocent TV theme music was laced with unease and the strings in this track seem to capture that somehow.


10. Wendy Carlos / Rachel Elkind – “Rocky Mountains”
Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” was more psychological and dreamier than conventional horrors such as “The Omen” and “The Amityville Horror” (partly due to the soundtrack which favours discordant works by composers such as Penderecki, Bartok and Ligeti). Although the film itself isn’t strictly hauntological, it inspired artists such as Leyland Kirby whose alter ego, The Caretaker, directly references the film, in particular the ghostly echoes of 1930s British dancehall bands, such as Ray Noble’s, which featured Al Bowlly. The composer Wendy Carlos was also well-known for giving us, as Walter Carlos, the “Switched on Bach” moog LPs of the early 70s and the “A Clockwork Orange” soundtrack.


11. The Swedish Rhapsody – “Unknown”
A numbers station is a shortwave radio broadcast that broadcasts haunting tunes and numbers being read out, sometimes by children. Though the transmissions started more than 70 years ago, nobody knows what the origins of these broadcasts are. Many suspect the world’s intelligence services, though no government has admitted as much. I chose this one because, in addition to being unsettling, it is also reminiscent of the jingles blared out by the ice cream vans that trawled suburbia.


Further listening
Pye Corner Audio and other artists on the Ghost Box Music label. Moon Wiring Club (whose mixes are also very good), Freescha, Leyland Kirby/The Caretaker, early outputs of Prog groups such as Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, and Jethro Tull; Howlround; Ten and Tracer; Jon Brooks; The Soulless Party; Broadcast; Jacob 2-2; Tycho; Lone; Christ.; for period library music the compilation CDs produced by Winchester Hospital Radio are excellent.