Philadelphia in Pennsylvania has produced a tremendous amount of art, but one of the most exciting and challenging music art is the band Forgotten Bottom. Forgotten Bottom is a viola and bouzouki instrumental drone duo. Named after an often overlooked Philadelphia neighborhood by born and raised musician Myles Donovan (Disemballerina, A Stick And A Stone, Ominous Cloud Ensemble) and New Jersey transplant Eric Bandel (Nymph, Victory and Good Hunting), the two piece group crossbreeds amplified walls of both harmony and dissonance with found echoing subway tunnel noises and simultaneous foot drum driven percussion.
Hostile Architecture is their cassette debut on the label Black Horizons, is a noisy soundtrack inspired by a home city’sheartbreaking gentrification, development, present opioid crisis andindividual band members’ work in the shelter system. The album gets its title from an urban design term used to discourage homeless individuals from sleeping in public places and unwelcome birds from nesting. Its cover is a dead Cardinal that Myles Donovan saw fly into an abandoned building, which he then retrieved off the ground and hand stuck into a color copier. Hostile Architecture was mastered by Mell Dettmer (Earth, Sunn O) and recorded in a warehouse fire escape by Steve Roche (Saetia). All song names are quotes from people living in Philadelphia.
The band states, «Watching a city you love and came from get gentrified beyond recognition over the years, working with the homeless, old Greek songs about prison and hash, the sound of the market Frankford el, addiction and recovery, Bartok duets, too much caffeine, abandoned buildings, that oil refinery they tore down years ago, profound and beautiful things said by nursing home residents, don’t get us started».
Whether or not we know what it is, we have all seen examples of hostile architecture. It is defined as a design trend through which public spaces are altered to inhibit inappropriate use. The most glaring examples of it are bench dividers that discourage the homeless from sleeping in public or spikes that limit where birds can nest. On their debut tape, Philly experimental duo Forgotten Bottom tackle this concept and the ways in which the city has changed throughout their lives. As a viola and bouzouki drone duo, Forgotten Bottom’s music is instrumental, intriguing, and deeply affecting.
Hostile Architecture is not for the faint of heart. Forgotten Bottom, made up of Myles Donovan and Eric Bandel, create piercingly dark and vast soundscapes. After building up a grand and mysterious backdrop, Touch Nothing Until The Signal dissolves into a dizzying nest of strings. The Dark Has Been Positioned So It Will Not Bark is dirge-like in its pacing, but a rewarding listen. The tape is worth a listen just for its song titles, which are all quotes from Philadelphians.
Through their work in the city’s shelter system and their observations of the city’s gentrification and current opioid crisis, Donovan and Bandel have come to see Philadelphia differently than other artists do. On Hostile Architecture, they present a view of the city that is more critical than it is prideful, making it a striking and important listen. Rather than coming from a place of pure hatred, the tape’s darkness and judgement comes from a deep love for the city and the hope that it can do better. The project’s last track, All Men, No Windows, ends with a snippet of applause. This serves to ground the tape’s messages in reality and jolt listeners into action. Though otherworldly, Forgotten Bottom’s music reflects the harsh reality of this, and every, city. As transporting as it is, it should be understood as a call to action in our local communities.