Chris Dooks
To Look North

By Elizabeth Wells

 
Chris Dooks’ former incarnations have included working as a film and documentary maker (he directed the South Bank show on avant-garde sound manipulator, Scanner) and as recording artist Bovine Life for France’s Bip-Hop label. His motivation for taking on the Northern Region Film and Television Archive and undertaking a project to ‘demix’ it, stemmed from a frustration with how the North East of England in particular was represented in the media.

Growing up in Cleveland in the 1980s, Dooks’ home was reflected back to him as a collection of ‘bleak industrial landscapes and empty shipyards- not to mention the angst of the miners’ strike and other industrial disputes’, leading him to wonder if that was the entire sum of the North East’s cultural geography. So, To Look North is a labour of love and a distillation of hundreds of hours worth of film footage, from which fragments of sound, conversations and reportage have been extracted and used as the basis for this album.

As you might expect from something which privileges the spoken word as a source of manipulation, distortion and repetition, it’s not a collection you would necessarily want to listen to all in one go: it works better as a collection of snapshots that you can savour a few at a time.

Memorable pieces include the children talking about what they’ve learned in school, accompanied by an undercurrent of electro frequency manipulation (Making Shapes) and the spooky monologue of a reporter talking about the grisly murder of a carpet shop owner in 05/09/58. This tale of Mr Scriven of Newport Street begins in a perfectly comprehensible manner, but in the course of a few minutes, at the crucial moment the narrative starts to turn nasty, the tape track is distorted almost beyond recognition, heightening suspense and leaving an impression of something sinister at the heart of small-town life.

It’s hard to know what Dooks wants his listener to glean from such excerpts, which at times are rendered almost meaningless from the squeaks, tweaks and interference he puts over the tracks. At times, as on the critique of the ‘cult of the DJ’ in the hilarious Partridge-esque The Toupe and Glistening Teeth, it is obvious, but on other tracks the nearest I came to getting a handle on it was in the appreciation of the kind of dream-language it creates, which gives an impression of a time and sensibility that can never be recaptured.
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