A guide to the In the Fishtank album series

tom morgan
In the Fishtank Albums guide

There isn’t much in music quite like In The Fishtank. The series, which ran from 1996 to 2009, was the creation of Netherlands-based label, promotions and distribution service Konkurrent. The ambitious project saw Konkurrent inviting one or two bands, often international acts that were on tour in the Netherlands, into a studio for two days with the intention of creating either an EP or album that the company would then release.

The project’s unique nature comes from the freedom that this setup granted the participating artists. The music produced across these 15 releases includes original works, reinterpretations, covers, jams, sketches and improvisations. The genres featured range from punk to electronica to improvised free jazz. Many err toward the experimental and improvisatory, utilizing the unique circumstances to craft music that pushes the participating artist(s) beyond their usual parameters.

The most interesting, and best remembered, feature of the series is the unique collaborations that Konkurrent brought together. Starting with Tortoise and The Ex’s 1999 installment, the series united some fascinating artists, both ones that intrinsically make sense as well as more off-the-wall fusions that yielded unexpected and engrossing results. None of these team-ups feel anything less than the sum of their parts, even those that don’t work quite as well as the series’ clear high points.

Journeying through them all is a bit of a labyrinth, however one that leads down fascinating corridors. Some of the bands that featured in the project are now lost to the annals of music history, but have been immortalized by their inclusion in the series. Konkurrent have never officially ended In The Fishtank, but given that the final installment was released in 2009, it looks unlikely to continue. Instead, we’re left with these 15 releases, all of which provide ample content to delve into for fans of the stranger corners of turn-of-the-millennium alternative music.

1. Nomeansno (1996)

Beginning the first In The Fishtank installment with a Residents cover now looks like an idiosyncratically apt choice. Nomeansno’s cover of “Would We Be Alive” makes for a neat summation of the whole series—odd and a little rough around the edges, yet hugely charismatic and vigorously-performed. Nomeansno’s quirky post-hardcore is a perfect fit for the raw, live feel encouraged by the In The Fishtank setup, with tracks like “Joy” and “Big Dick” receiving especially visceral runouts. While probably not the most fondly remembered installment of the series, In The Fishtank 1 started it all off with a bang.

Listen: Spotify

in the fishtank guvner

2. Guv’ner (1997)

Guv’ner didn’t exist for long—forming in 1993 and splitting in 1999—yet in that time they released three full-lengths (with their debut on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! label), put out a split with Melvins on Amphetamine Reptile and supported Belle & Sebastian, Cat Power and Superchunk. Their In The Fishtank installment features five new compositions and a Joni Mitchell cover, each of which find the three-piece in an especially anxious and downbeat mood. This is the New Yorkers at their most minimalist and cold, with closer “Whose Eyes?” an especially caustic cut of brittle slowcore.

Listen: Spotify

3. Tassilli Players (1997)

Tassilli Players were the dub project of David Hake, an English musician affiliated with the reggae/rave collective Zion Train. His experimental blend of dub and electronica is unlike any other In The Fishtank, in fact there wouldn’t be another installment so heavily electronica-indebted for nearly a decade. The four tracks recorded for this session get progressively stranger, moving from the conventional dub opener “Into The Grey Area” towards the bizarre closer “Uit Het Grijze Gebied”, which recalls the squelchy techno of Herbert and Matmos. The most uncharacteristic In The Fishtank, this showed the true open mindedness of Konkurrent’s ambitious project.

Listen: Spotify

4. Snuff (1998)

Snuff are far from the most serious or austere punk band, and In The Fishtank 4 finds them at their most mischievous and anarchic. These nine tracks clock in at just over ten minutes in total and feature, among other oddities, four versions of the same track, a Welsh-language title that translates to “Happy Birthday” and a cover of the theme tune to the BBC’s long-running soccer show Match Of The Day. It’s basically ten minutes of Snuff messing around, as we say in the UK, “taking the piss.” It doesn’t really leave any lasting impression, but it sounds like the band had a lot of fun making it.

Listen: Spotify

in the fishtank tortoise

5. Tortoise and The Ex (1999)

The first collaborative installment In The Fishtank, this is where the series really started to come into its own. Tortoise and The Ex’s sonic palette’s are dramatically different—Tortoise’s calm, textured experimental rock shares little with The Ex’s fiery noise punk. While both take extensive influence from jazz, the majority of In The Fishtank 5 finds the two bands keen to rock. “The Lawn Of The Limp” is propulsive and krautrock-inflected, while “Pooh Song (Christopher Robin’s Nightbear)” channels the rhythm-centric energy of late-period Dischord bands. There’s a few jam-oriented, less fleshed-out tracks, which would become a common feature of the series. However, when it works, In The Fishtank 5 is a compelling addition to its creators’ fine back catalogs.

Listen: Spotify

6. June of 44 (1999)

Another installment rife with jams, noodling and half-ideas, In The Fishtank 6 is far from June Of 44’s most essential release, however it does give a great glimpse of how tight and intuitive this band were towards the end of their career. The six tracks of this installment are winding and maze-like, exhaling and inhaling choppy guitars, thick bass lines and commanding drums. The key influence here seems to be dub reggae, with “Generate” and “Every Free Day A Good Day” especially leaning on reggae riddims and spacious textures. June Of 44 would go on to further flesh-out “Generate” and “Modern Hereditary Dance Steps” on their 2021 sort-of comeback album Revisionist, however their run-outs here possess more energy and vigor, as does the rest of this intriguing In The Fishtank.

Listen: Spotify

in the fishtank low dirty three

7. Low and Dirty Three (2001)

Low and Dirty Three’s collaboration is a high point of this series. In The Fishtank 7 perfectly blends the two bands’ styles, resulting in six delicate tracks that course with soul and feeling. Low and Dirty Three’s visions sync up brilliantly. Both bands are defined by their compositional patience and use of languid tempos, best exemplified here by their practically ambient cover of Neil Young’s “Down By The River” and the gentle, swelling “Invitation Day.” Again, there’s one or two tracks that feel a little under-developed, however the majority of In The Fishtank 7 is a huge success, by turns soothing, reflective and heart-breaking.

Listen: Spotify

8. Willard Grant Conspiracy and Telefunk (2002)

Telefunk are probably the most obscure act to record an In The Fishtank. The Dutch band released a few albums around the turn of the century, although there remains almost no online trace of them besides this collaboration with prolific alt-country act Willard Grant Conspiracy. This unlikely union actually makes for one of the most cohesive series installments, six full-bodied tracks that elegantly combine country, indie and electronica. A mixture of original compositions and reinterpretations, In The Fishtank 8 culminates with “Dig A Hole In The Meadow,” an ornate reinterpretation of Willard Grant Conspiracy’s “Dig A Hole” that thrillingly expands on its stripped-down original. An underrated series installment.

Listen: Spotify

9. Sonic Youth, Instant Composers Pool and The Ex (2002)

In The Fishtank 9 is the most singular installment for a number of reasons: it features the most well-known band to have been involved with the series (Sonic Youth), it’s the only one to feature three different artists and the only one which sees the return of a previously featured artist (The Ex). It’s also easily the most abrasive and challenging In The Fishtank. These eight tracks take their cues from free jazz, stripping away song structures, melodies, rhythms and familiar textures. This manic and improvisatory nature makes for an intriguing listen, but a difficult one to love unless you have a penchant for deconstructed experimental music.

Listen: Spotify

in the fishtank motorpsycho

10. Motorpsycho and Jaga Jazzist Horns (2003)

Continuing down the jazz route, but one that’s a little more conventional, is In The Fishtank 10. In 2003 the experimental rock group Motorsycho played a few shows with the horn section of nu jazz band Jaga Jazzist, a collaboration that led to the two Norwegian groups entering Konkurrent’s studio. These five tracks find a middle ground between the two bands’ sensibilities, resulting in some unique and skillful delights. The opening two tracks (both reworks of previously released Motorpsycho tracks) are the EP’s highlights, particularly the delicate and impressionistic “Pills, Powders And Passion Plays.” A quirky and rich series installment from two prolific cult bands.

Listen: Spotify

11. The Black Heart Procession and Solbakken (2003)

It’s sometimes fun to interpret the In The Fishtank collaborations as a battle between the respective artists. At its best, these collaborations see a satisfying synchronicity of musical minds, however, occasionally, one will triumph over the other. On In The Fishtank 11, The Black Heart Procession’s persona dominates the work, relegating Dutch prog act Solbakken to adding extraneous touches and flourishes. The Black Heart Procession’s dark alt country/indie fusion is on fine display here, evidenced by the piano-lead doom of “Dog Song” and “Your Cave.” Solbakken do add their two cents, such as the middle eastern instrumentation of “Nervous Persian, but otherwise this installment is best understood just as an especially-quirky The Black Heart Procession EP.

Listen: Spotify

12. Karate (2005)

In The Fishtank 12 is something of a throwback. Since the turn of the millennium the series featured increasingly more ambitious and eclectic collaborations, which makes Karate’s low-key installment a bit of a reset to the project’s origins. Karate’s minimal, wiry post-hardcore/post-rock fusion is thrillingly-stripped-down, and sees them tackle eight cover songs that the band infuse with their own cool persona. It takes nerve to cover iconic works like Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” as well as several Minutemen tracks, but Karate pull it off with effortless ease. It’s not the most memorable or grandiose In The Fishtank, but it’s one of the most simple and likable.

Listen: Spotify

13. Solex and M.A.E. (2005)

The closest that the series has tilted toward pop, albeit a particularly experimental and leftfield form of pop, In The Fishtank 13 is a collaboration between two obscure Dutch artists that’s far from the most definitive series installment, but contains enough eccentricity and off-kilter charm to make it an interesting and rewarding listen. Solex, who released several albums on Matador at the start of the noughties, has a captivating voice, which sits neatly amidst hers and M.A.E.’s electronica and jazz-inspired production. The music possesses an affectionately handmade quality, full of clever samples and unexpected instrumentation. A minor installment, but one that more than holds its own within the In The Fishtank canon.

Listen: Spotify

in the fishtank

14. Isis and Aereogramme (2006)

Whether or not there’s an element of recency bias at play here, In The Fishtank 14 feels like one of the most well-known installments of the series, if not the best-known overall. It’s also simply one of the best. Isis and Aerogramme’s sensibilities sync up absolutely perfectly, finding a harmonious middle ground from which flows three stunning textural rock epics. Opener “Low Tide” is one of the greatest tracks to have come from any In The Fishtank collaboration—a propulsive yet delicate work of linear beauty that transcends genre. As closer “Stolen” gradually strips away its conventional rock instrumentation and ascends an ambient tunnel as if towards a glowing sun, you’ll In The Fishtank 14 reveals itself as one of the richest and deepest moments in the whole of Konkurrent’s project.

Listen: Spotify

in the fishtank sparklehorse

15. Sparklehorse and Fennesz (2009)

The final installment of In The Fishtank, as of 2022, Sparklehorse and Fennesz’s tranquil, meditative work isn’t the most elaborate series collaboration, however it serves as a fittingly unique and poignant end-note for what looks like it will be the end of this singular project. Fennesz’s signature ambience is paired up adroitly with the late Mark Linkous’ gentle guitar work, producing subtle wonders like the standout track “If My Heart.” The two solo guitar pieces from Linkous and Christian Fennesz are also exquisite, capping off a final In The Fishtank that serenely sends the series off to (a most-likely permanent) sleep.

Listen: Spotify

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View Comment (1)
  • I absolutely loved Fishtank 8, and through reminiscence, it led me to this article. The series was a wonderful idea. I truly think this could be revisited successfully in the modern era, with even more intriguing nuances and collaborations. They don’t make Robert Fishers anymore, but there are plenty of fantastic artists out there.

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