Raising the Standards: Introducing MiSTOA POLTSA

Their live shows are chaotic and they're constantly broke, but Manchester trio MiSTOA POLTSA explain why neither they nor their contemporaries are simply pissing about

Feature by Simon Jay Catling | 29 Oct 2013

“Sion said he couldn’t be here, he’s playing some game that looks like a really boring spreadsheet, but if he makes £7 billion he can build a meth lab on the moon.”

It’s one of the stranger reasons we've heard for a band member missing an interview, but if you take even a couple of steps into MiSTOA POLTSA’s warped musical world of helter-skelter riffs played with devil-may-care malice, flesh-blistering percussion and acidic, cerebrum-scrambled stream-of-conscious lyrics, then it becomes entirely believable that their drummer is indeed plotting to build a lunar-based drug hideout.

“I’d been out of work for too long and needed something to do,” says the trio’s shock-haired frontman Mark Javin, nursing a coffee out of the Manchester rain, eyes heavy from a house party that lasted most of the weekend. Without a job or money, but also without any time constraints, Javin has always written prolifically; and the spatial convenience of a large empty room in his house has allowed him to develop it into something more. “When I’m on my own there I can just lose myself in writing and recording,” he says. “I need to, really, but it’s the only thing I ever really want to do as well.” The room soon filled up with others: he already lived with Sion – who makes his own sense-bent, off-kilter lo-fi recordings under the acronym Llion Swyd – and got in touch with Robin Edwards, an old friend from his native Cheshire, to play bass with him.

"When I record drums at home I’ve got one mic for the whole kit. I don’t want them to get so fucking peaky!" – Mark Javin

It was a familiar tale of small-town boredom that initially brought both Javin and Edwards to Manchester. Edwards is from Warrington, Javin from a small town outside of that – and neither place is going anywhere fast musically. “You just pass through it, there’s no reason for you to stop there,” Edwards comments. “Saying that, there are some lovely people there and some really good musicians. I think they all choose to lock themselves away in their rooms and record, instead of hanging out with all the scallies round there.”

Since forming, MiSTOA POLTSA have been relentless in treading the city’s boards, whether it be propping up support bills, or playing basements, bars, house parties or warehouse units. They’re a true band of addicts in the sense of a Jay Reatard or Ty Segall – not just in making and releasing music as soon as they have it (there have been three EPs and an album in the past year, with a further tape on the way), but also in pulling themselves around the live circuit. Javin is a firm believer in creating in the moment; the group’s viscerally breakneck debut album, When Jesus Glassed God, released in the summer on cassette label Number4Door, was recorded and mixed within three hours at the increasingly infamous Sways Records Bunker in Salford. “It’s such a great feeling when you listen back to it and think, ‘fuck, that was really good,’ and it’s your first attempt on a track,” Javin says. “There’s a lot more to appreciate there because it documents something honest and in the moment. It was totally unforced and it just flowed out naturally.”

Not many will have heard it, but When Jesus Glassed God is one of the most thrilling punk releases to have come out this year – the sort that leaves you breathless just sat by your speakers. The reductionist, lo-fi feel of its production adds an abrasive conflict to the ambition of its spiralling guitar lines, blasted shards of distortion and fibre-tearing drumming; the band tumble through ten tracks scratching and clawing at each other with gloriously aggressive abandon. In its feel of sonic decay, the band unintentionally re-claim ‘lo-fi’ as a true test of creative ambition versus limitation – more in historical keeping with someone like R. Stevie Moore – and take it away from 21st-century grunge dullards like Yuck and DIIV, who make it an aesthetic choice and a cloak behind which to hide their lacklustre songs about nothing in particular.

“The trouble with the lo-fi thing now is that for a lot of bands it’s not just the production, but the music and the songs have all started to sound like every other band as well,” agrees Edwards.

“I like that kind of music,” adds Javin, “but we just don’t have the gear to make it sound that pretty. I wish I did have a bit more control over it. At Sways it was alright, obviously, but when I record drums at home I’ve got one mic for the whole kit. I don’t want them to get so fucking peaky!”

The live show is where the bristling, instantaneous, angry energy of their music really spills out. At one particular gig this year, Javin turned up just 25 minutes before he was due on stage, sleepless after a night of high hallucinogen in the Lake District. It mattered not; as the sound engineer desperately hung on to his levels at the desk, the rest of the room was entranced as the three plugged in and flung themselves through an utterly deranged set where the wheels creaked and strained without falling off – all this while their hysterical frontman flung himself against the venue walls, then licked them. “Glasgow was another good one too,” he recalls. “We were supposed to play in the basement but no one was there, so we told the promoter we were going to play in the bar and brought all their PA upstairs. It got proper messy. I hit some dude in the face with a microphone during the set.”

Edwards laughs. “Everyone got taken out; I smashed someone in the face with my bass by accident, Sion’s drum stick flew out and leathered someone half way across the room.”

MiSTOA POLTSA are among the loudest of a sprawling city of bands, DIY labels and promoters who slip between short-lived acts, put each other on, and release each other’s cassettes. Sways Records and, more prominently, MONEY are linked with it, while PINS will be putting the trio’s next release out on their own Haus of PINS label – and that’s just the top of a scene that’s constantly restless and re-configuring in a way that, Javin claims, is wholly supportive of its participants. “It does feel like a community at the moment,” he says. “You can’t complain when you’re playing every week with Sex Hands, Fruit Tones or Temple Songs. They’re my favourite bands to listen to at home anyway! I guess all these bands cropping up and putting each other on is just a release from doing nothing, and creating our own thing.”

Only Joking Records recently saw fit to issue Manchester Standards, a compilation featuring Javin’s old band Butchers among a dozen others plucked from this community’s flux. It’s garnered positive reviews, although some place more emphasis on the dumb fun and hi-jinks than the fervour with which those involved approach their craft. “There’s a lot more to it than that,” says Javin, unimpressed. “We’ve all been writing for years. We’re not pissing around, y’know?”

MiSTOA POLTSA’s cassette We Knew It Was Alive When It Died is out this month through Haus of PINS

They play Big Hands, Manchester, 1 Nov, 8pm, £3