The Utopia Strong - International Treasure: "a triumph of foraging spontaneity"

Snooker star Steve Davis and Knifeworld's Kavus Torabi's very interesting second album as The Utopia Strong

album cover for The Utopia Strong's International Treasure album
(Image: © Press)

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Get over the novelty aspect, and The Utopia Strong make perfect sense. World snooker champion Steve Davis and left-field visionary Kavus Torabi – whose extensive list of projects includes Knifeworld, Cardiacs, Gong, Guapo and The Holy Family – are music obsessives with a shared outlier sensibility, first pooling their love of all things strange and experimental on their long-running radio programme, The Interesting Alternative Show

Their progression from DJ sets to a band was secured with the addition of Michael J York, once part of the Coil collective and, latterly, Torabi’s cohort in Guapo/The Holy Family. The Utopia Strong’s compelling 2019 debut set the template: synth-heavy instrumentals salted down from long-form improv pieces. Through Bandcamp, they’ve since issued three album-length live recordings on limited-edition vinyl, all of which sold out in a heartbeat. Clearly, this thing has legs.

The trio’s MO seems straightforward. Davis makes no great claim to being a musician, but provides a grounding for Torabi and York, armed with a battery of modular synths and an impeccable sense of musical taste. “I see myself as a strong midfielder or a centre back,” he says, dipping into football parlance. “Kavus and Mike are like the Lionel Messi or Ronaldo of the equation, and I’m setting situations up for them.” Nothing is over-discussed or pre-planned, they just set up and play. Soon enough, a direction will present itself.

In those terms, International Treasure is a triumph of foraging spontaneity. These compositions flow freely and surely, gathering nuance and texture from a combination of sequencers, samplers, guitars, harmoniums, pipes and the like. Trident Of Fire is a relatively muted opener, the band slowly unpacking a box of pulses and not-quite rhythms, before eliding into the beatific rapture of Persephone Sleeps. Here, an ambient Cluster groove spirals around itself, while patterns radiate from the centre like constellations in search of a galaxy. The seven-minute Shepherdess, which pits a cyclical synth pattern against Torabi’s Chinese zither, elicits the same kind of sensory response, the effect, this time, like soft waves foaming onto a beach of static.

For the most part, International Treasure feels meditative and unsettling. The Islanders contains a loop that sounds like a dog’s squeaky toy; subterranean voices feed into Spirits From The Deep in a way that suggests a psychedelic séance; York’s semi-industrial drone buzzes beneath the exquisite Revelations. But they finally slip on their dance pants for Castalia, which finds the threesome on a proggy techno trip, partying into an iridescent electric dawn. Long may they rave.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.