Ekin and Berna of Kim Ki O are obviously delighted to have been invited to France for two shows, but clearly the decision to come is one they have had to wrestle with given their friends and family are back home in Istanbul caught up in the Taksim Square and Gezi Park protests.
Having made the journey it is clear this is not business as usual as their voices crack with emotion as they speak of police brutality and a refusal to give up the fight for the secularist community. Their t-shirts are self-drawn reading “Resist and we win” and “Everywhere’s Taksim, everywhere’s resistance” and each song is introduced, themes explained and dedicated despite the fact, by their own admittance, they don’t usually speak between songs. Here though, stagecraft is trumped by a need to communicate about the cruelty they have witnessed and the injustice they feel.
Of course, all this creates quite a poignant atmosphere in the room and elevate their tunes to a sum that is perhaps greater than the parts. That said the combination of strutting synth and hollowed-out Joy Division-style bass perfectly captures a sense of blissed-out, melancholic optimism and, as such, as their set comes to a close, the roof is raised and if they weren’t having to pack up their own gear they may well have been carried on shoulders from the room.
Nisennenmondai bring an intense atmosphere of their own, creating a different kind of friction and pressure through build and release. Mostly build. Pretty much all build. Indeed, Syaka Himeno’s drum set comprises only three bits of kit; kick drum, hi-hat and snare and the snare ain’t getting much of a look in. Not much danger of a tear for that particular skin. However the fury with which the cymbal is attacked is a marvel in itself, requiring a limbering up pre-performance and a cracking of the knuckles, elbows and shoulders between pieces. Nisennenmondai are clearly not prepared to surrender to the threat of repetitive strain injury.
With their most recent material prior to latest LP N , the set with which they toured triumphantly round Europe and America in 2011 (captured on their Nisennenmondai Live!!! recording), it was mostly the case of a fast rhythm grinding abrasively, stabbing guitar (or Korg synth) weaving its way in and around the bass and percussion, taking it’s time to reach the springboard, the metronomic bass-thump and hi-hat rave-beat greeting the extra drums when it kicks on, but with this new record they are seemingly happy for soundscapes to travel without such frenzy and with a flattening of the peaks and troughs.
Still at the heart of it is Yuri Zaikawa’s bass. A wall of bass. Impervious bass, set down as a foundation layer. Then Himeno, head thrashing from side to side in time with her drum pedal, will attack the hi-hat as though trying to whittle it with blunt sticks. Finally Masako Takada, tweaking notes out of her guitar, will hunch over a deck of pedals and switches, looping, stretching and manipulating those notes, before adding more echo and shimmer. It is all done in a similar way to how Michael Rother operates live, albeit on a more compact scale.
So, this latest marker in the Nisennenmondai canon sees more ambient textures, more teasing (N being made up of three quarter-hour pieces), but nonetheless their repetitive hooks clasp tight, and the grooves prove swiftly addictive.
So let me tell you about Tim Presley. Well, no, let me tell you about the apparent work ethic of those working in the Bay Area psych-rock scene. It appears the musical culture there is based on this kind of exchange: “so, you’ve released seventeen albums this year? How quaint, I’ve released thirty”.
John Dwyer seems to put out Thee Oh Sees records to commemorate each time he has a shave while Ty Segall appears to believe recording is a practical alternative to eating and sleeping. Doing well to keep up with them is Tim Presley, currently touring with a band as White Fence. Four LPs in 2012 and another one so far this year. Bangbangbang. ‘Ave ‘em.
Of course the two other prolific personalities mentioned above are not chosen at random with Dwyer’s Castle Face label putting out the latest White Fence record Cyclops Reap, while Segall and Presley collaborated on an LP, Hair, one of the four Presley releases last year.
Prior to 2012, Presley spread his output across a number of acts, through Darker My Love, The Strange Boys and The Nerve Agents. Where I come in with Tim Presley was his year-long stint in The Fall in 2006/07, slotting in with Darker… colleague Rob Barbato after Mark E. Smith’s previous gruppe resigned en masse during a US tour. In the end he played a big part in The Fall’s Reformation Post TLC record, returning briefly five years later to cover Pete Greenway’s maternity leave for a UK tour and has even contributing to a number of tunes on the latest Fall LP Re-Mit.
How he makes time for all this, I don’t know, but interviews suggest that his social life outside of gig venues and recording studios has suffered as a result. Has it been worth it is the key question here and on the basis of this performance at Tufnell Park Dome, you’d have to say ‘Yeh. Oh yeh’.
This was an electrifying hour despite the fact Presley does not go in for extremes in stage craft. Whereas John Dwyer might bend, twist and flip, embodying the music in body and performance on stage, Presley is much more straightforward, his guitar tied tight to his torso, rather than his hip; he will occasionally spin on a heel and present his guitar for a little feedback, but that’s the height of the ostentation.
Nonetheless, boisterousness was certainly in the air as a scuffle briefly broke out down the front. “Come on, don’t fight” they implored at the conclusion of the tune they were amongst at the time, in the polite manner of a W.I. tour group accidentally finding themselves lost in Ayia Napa at 3am on a Sunday morning.
On record, White Fence’s sound can be quite gentle, bobbing along like a message in a bottle, but live there is a vigour that comes from the wall of sound created by the three-guitar set up. It’s a woozy psychedelic swirl which captures a punk abandon vocally, and some Beefheart/post-punk eccentricity in the guitar textures. Glorious, in short.
What a performance to commemorate Upset the Rhythm’s 499th promotion. Indeed this stacked, five-band bill would have been an ideal 500th really, but timing is everything. King Tuff impressed with half an hour of trucker-punk rock n’ roll while Mikal Cronin’s band topped a brisk set with a freakout section that felt like a much more benign version of My Bloody Valentine’s ‘holocaust’. Cap doffed, once against, to UTR.
Verity Susman wanders onto the stage, wearing wide-eyes and a gigantic false moustache, looking like Yosser Hughes asking to be ‘giz’ a job as the support act. Having been ‘gizzen’ the work, Verity swiftly proves that she can indeed ‘do that’.
She arrives, pins on a sax and proceeds to speak through it like a pining whale, kissing the tip before turning her attention to the bank of diminutive synths and numerous effects pedals which form the basis of her sonic collection, whilst behind her Jack Barraclough’s bespoke, psychedelic visuals illustrate her stories. Susman’s central underpinning is the disembodied voice of Siri reading the Seven of Nine-based lesbian fantasy Sustenance by Tenderware, which cycles in and out of her work, decontextualized and detached, but like an old friend returning with each appearance.
Verity has tunes, but in her live set they become part of a larger whole, a PVA glue collage of bits taken from sci-fi slash fiction, avant-jazz, kosmische music and snippets of vibe from her previous work with Electrelane. The swirling, increasingly claustrophobic fairground sounds of The Phillip Glass Ceiling and the looped, estranged choral twinkle of To Make You Afraid are particular highlights.
Teeth of the Sea are similarly nuanced, but come at things with much more muscle. They are a four piece, but do the work of many more, with some members often playing two instruments at once (Matt Colegate on bass/drums and Jimmy Martin on guitar/synths being two multi-tasking types). They have the billowing maelstrom element of psyche-prog without really being it. They have the heavy duty, chest-barging aspect of hardcore and avant-noise without really being either of those.
Their music comes as long-but-not-outstaying-their-welcome instrumental pieces, and where there is bellowing, it is off-mic, a marker of the energy; breakers of sound swelling and colliding. A trumpet appears at points, often in the more reflective passages, a Gabriel-esque trump of doom indicating imminent attack and change. Alternatively, if a turn to the Biblical isn’t your thing, they could easily be soundtracking a pub fight on Neptune.
If all this wasn’t triumphant enough, they are joined for the encore by Colin Newman, Graham Lewis and Robert Grey of post-punk veterans Wire. This gig is part of a four night run of show curated by Wire and they appear here having sped from the Lexington where, earlier in the evening, they had performed with Toy, but in a support slot to the younger act. Their headline performance in this festive run will follow in twenty-two hours time.
After an awkward soundcheck in front of a shuffling, encroaching, excited audience here in the bijou confines of a packed Café OTO, Teeth of the Sea and Wire come together for a twenty-minute version of the latter’s track Drill. It is a Drill so powerful as to put the earth’s core in jeopardy, spinning and piercing incessantly and feverishly until Colin Newman raises his hands to ask “If this is not an exercise, could this be a drill?” It is, and an astonishing one.
Graham Lewis goes around kissing and hugging everyone, the grins on the faces, particularly, of the Teeth of the Sea members light up the room, and the cheering of the audience goes on. A superb finale to an excellent evening.
Video of the evening’s Drill performance here
Napalm Death are much like the Sugababes really, in that their current line-up features none of the people that made up their first incarnation. However, the current quartet have now all been in situ for well over twenty years, and in terms of recorded output, this collective have worked together on twelve of their fifteen long-players.
Barney Greenway has been the vocalist now for quarter of a century, which with his fresh face and bank clerk hair suggests he arrived in Napalm Death before he did secondary school . His stage movements are, however, a bit more Dad-at-wedding appearing, as he prowls about, to be a man wading through swampland, pushing aside five-feet-high long grasses whilst shaking his head like a dog attempting to rid itself of excess rainwater. Not some cartoon ‘evil’ death metal band these, certainly; after playing their infamous one and a half second long piece You Suffer, Barney whips his grinning face towards the crowd in a way which recalls Tim Vine after an elaborate pun has hit home.
For a man barking like a garrotted lion during the tunes, between them Barney is very much the avuncular presence, thanking the audience repeatedly for making their way to Weinheim to pack out Café Central despite the repeated snowfall and transport issues of the prior few days, as well as requesting, in hangdog fashion, that we both put aside violence and war and invite Nazi Punks, courtesy of their Dead Kennedy’s cover, to “fuck off”.
To his right, American-born guitarist Mitch Harris also looks well preserved for his years on the road, crashing through the noise and offering backing vocals that contrast Barney’s rumbling tones with a high-pitched, help-I’m-being-devoured-by-zombies-at-the-bottom-of-a-well scream.
The rhythm section looks exactly as an extreme metal rhythm section should look: portly, goateed and appearing to be combating a migraine throughout. Bassist Shane Embury, the sole member to date back to 1987 debut LP Scum is still billowing out an unkempt wafro, but these days pattern baldness has rendered a kind of reverse-Mohawk parting of the red sea, the bubbling follicles hanging round his ears like palm leaves.
What Napalm Death continue to offer after all these years, and even now slimmed down from a five-piece to a four (Jesse Pintado having left in 2004, before sadly passing away two years later), is a captivating energy which in the right space sends the pinballs flying; the stage invaded on a regular basis for use as a springboard into the crashing waves of human surf.
Far be it from me to consider myself an authority on extreme metal but with regards this 75 minutes spent at Café Central, here in an otherwise sleepy provincial town, well, I loved it.
Looking at this list of my 25 top gigs (well, sets really) of 2012, it seems I have much to thank the curators and bookers of the festivals I went to, with ATP festivals in March and December, as well as Field Day, Lovebox, Apple Cart and the BT River of Music (Africa Stage) represented robustly here.
Interesting, to me at least, is that the act at #1 would, the first time I saw them, have won my ‘Most Disappointing Gig Of The Year’ garland, were I the spiteful type to dole those kind of things out. Just goes to show first impressions don’t have to last.
So, anyway, here’s the best of ‘em…
1: Boredoms. ATP @ Minehead Butlins (March)
Five drummers, twelve guitarists, and leader EYE at the centre of the storm, conducting with body rather than baton. We were promised an “energy orb”, and it becomes just that, with EYE’s intonations and sonic crashes blowing minds all around.
2: Thee Oh Sees. Stockholm Hornstull Strand (June)
Playing third on a four band bill at 20:15 might seem like a thankless task but while Brian Jonestown Massacre and Kurt Vile & The Violators may have been bigger draws at this special ‘What We Do Is Secret’ summer event, Thee Oh Sees go beyond ‘warming up’ the crowd to the point where the energy they generate on stage and in the crowd would be enough to keep the Stockholm street’s lit through a long Scandinavian winter. Highlight: The Dream.
3: Mike Watt & George Hurley play the songs of The Minutemen. ATP @ Minehead Butlins (March)
After a rare mistake, Mike Watt remarks “you know we practise, and practise, and practise, but we’re still missing our guy”, acknowledging the D. Boon shaped hole in this set-up. Boon died in 1985. Watt & Hurley refused to replace him, or use the Minutemen name without him, and this is a very rare duet, but these are their songs re-shaped for a bass guitar and a drum-set only, and it is both a tribute to an absent friend and yet electrifying in the here and now.
4: The Ex & Brass Unbound. ATP @ Camber Sands (December)
The Ex can now officially be called staples of my end of year list having appeared here in 2010, again with Brass Unbound, and last year in tandem with Getatchu Mekuria. This, though, was the best of the lot.
5: Group Doueh. ATP @ Minehead Butlins (March)
It’s the end of a long weekend. Long, but great. Just as the body is beginning to give up, it gets a recharge from Western Saharan rock troubadours. Like a psychedelic wedding band with a bosomy Auntie on backing vocals and excitable frug. Electrifying, at just the right time. A fine way to finish off an ATP.
6: The Fall. ATP @ Minehead Butlins (March)
Continuing a rich run of astonishing Fall gigs, by no means a guarantee, with one of the very best yet.
7: Liars. Field Day @ Victoria Park (June)
“Never ones to sit still, new LP WIXIW is yet another change of direction, and they showcase it here, thunderous beats and ambient electro building up from the wide-pupilled alt.rock foundations, and occupying a world of its own”. FULL REVIEW. Highlight: Brats.
8: Turing Machine. ATP @ Camber Sands (November)
So, you go to a festival, and you do your research, see what’s good for checking out n’ that. Ramping up to the Shellac-curated ATP, Turing Machine’s record stood head and shoulders above other unfamiliar acts that were previewed. With expectations thus running high, it was bound to be a let down, right? Not a bit of it. Utterly electrifying.
9: Black Sabbath. Birmingham O2 Academy (May)
“Throw in the fact that Ozzy Osbourne has been a cartoon character with a shot voice for many years, while guitar hero Tony Iommi has been stricken with cancer of late, even the fact that my first experience of Sabbath live, twenty years after they first entered my record collection, would be a warm-up show in their home town in a venue far too small to accommodate demand, felt tinged by an sense of disappointment. One hour and forty-five minutes of some of the finest hard rock anthems later however, all those misgivings were blown away.” FULL REVIEW. Highlight: The Wizard.
10: Evangelista. Brussels Les Ateliers Claus (September)
“However, it is Winds Of St Anne that takes the prize as the set highlight, as it crawls through the haze of an Arabian desert-scrape, ridden with the impact sweat of the dry heat, the lyrics anticipating a new life in preparatory stream of consciousness (“When the wind blows, there are no rules”) as the bursts of excitement leaving a tension in their wake” FULL REVIEW
The first time I saw Carla Bozulich playing the music from her Evangelista album in 2007, if it wasn’t life changing then it was certainly eye-opening and EAR-changing. I’ve seen Carla in duos, trios and with the full Evangelista group on several occasions since, but it was probably this show that got closest to matching the intensity of that first show.
11: Verity Susman. Dalston Birthdays (June)
Thirty minute sonic adventure taking in squalling sax, vocal loops, dancefloor beats all weaving in and out of Seven of Nine based lesbian slash fiction read sonorously by a disembodied ‘Protect and Survive’ style narrator. Startling and arresting.
12: The Pre New. Social (August)
Chaotically immense. Was it not ever thus?
13: Bo Ningen. Rough Trade East (October)
“With each Bo Ningen gig I have attended, they have been twice as good as the previous occasion. If these trends continue, they will become the greatest band in the world about four gigs from now”. FULL REVIEW.
14: Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat. Apple Cart Festival @ Victoria Park (June)
“I’ve never done this before sober” says Aidan Moffat as he shuffles onto the stage, followed by the band and the eccentric looking figure of Bill Wells who takes a back-seat on stage. Yet it is his piano lines as much as anything else that causes my flesh to goose into bumps on at least three occasions. It is Jubilee weekend so they play their Glasgow Jubilee with prefaced warning to the parents at this ‘family’ festival that it may get a little x-rated. Also, with the rain hammering down incessantly outside, their drawled cover of Bananarama’s Cruel Summer is entirely apt. Highlight: Let’s Stop Here.
15: Melt Banana. ATP @ Camber Sands (December)
Down to a core duo, but no less intense. It required a shower and a change of shirt for me directly afterwards, involved me carrying two crowd surfers on my head at one point, and one bloke left afterwards minus the set of specs he went in with. Bedlam and thus brilliant. Highlight: Free The Bee.
16: R. Stevie Moore. Field Day @ Victoria Park (June)
“Dressed in sweatpants, and sporting the kind of facial hair you can usually only get away with if you have an army of elves in your employ, the eccentricity is clearly of the cuddly ‘hey everybody, I’ve just dyed my beard blue’ kind. R. Stevie projects a wavering baritone onto his sharp rock and his pop whimsy, but then unleashes a growling bark that Jazz Coleman would rank amongst his best. A reason to be cheerful, certainly”. FULL REVIEW. Highlight: I Like To Stay Home.
17: Andrew W.K.. Kentish Town Forum (April)
Sometimes you just need to check your brain in at the door and surrender to ridiculous, gonzoid, cartoon rock. What better time to do this than with Andrew W.K. in town, with full band, performing his superb record of feel-good PAAAAAAAARRRRR-TAAAAAAYYYYYY anthems, I Get Wet in its entirety to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Damn good fun.
18: Victims. Stockholm Hornstull Strand (June)
From Nyköping, Victims play a brand of punishing hardcore punk rock that gives no quarter, and barrels into the audience like a rolling dust cloud of thrown fists and kicking legs. First on Victims own the Strand stage and both Bombus and American veterans Poison Idea couldn’t follow them.
19: Gallon Drunk. Hoxton Macbeth (November)
“There’s nothing stand-offish about Gallon Drunk. More stand in-ish, as frontman James Johnston spends the entire set indulging in some front-row frottage whilst slinging his guitar about with such carefree abandon that the less attentive audience member remains permanently in peril of a blithe biffing” FULL REVIEW.
20: Peepholes. Scala (August)
“Peepholes can be a little awkward in their stage craft which isn’t helped here by a fidgety drum set causing continual trouble. However a packed Scala forgive these minor shortcomings and raise the roof on their departure, having been blown away by a peacock display of assertive synths, rattling drums and a psychedelic yelp” . FULL REVIEW.
21: Angélique Kidjo. London Pleasure Gardens (July)
When your playing at a day of African music and the moment legend of African music Hugh Masekela joins you on stage isn’t anywhere near the highlight of your performance, it’d be fair to say you’ve turned it on proper. 52 years of age but performing with the zeal of a teenager, Angélique Kidjo stole the Saturday of the BT River of Music’s Africa stage from under the noses of King Sunny Ade and Baaba Maal. Highlight: Move On Up.
22: The Magic Band. Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms (March)
Crowd turned from quiet and respectful to hollering and hooting in the space of two energetic sets. Your favourite band gets booked into your favourite venue, what better excuse is there for a trip back home?. Highlight: My Human Gets Me Blues.
23: Hot Chip. Lovebox @ Victoria Park (June)
Humbled by the honour, Al Doyle announces this is the first time Hot Chip have headlined a festival, and they don’t waste the opportunity afforded them. Being a fan of both Pet Shop Boys and Devo, it is difficult for me NOT to have a soft spot for Hot Chip, who also apply a subtly arched eyebrow to spirited synth-pop. Here it is also aligned with a monogamously romantic soul sound, and no small dose of party funk. The hipster chess club nerds own the field as the sun goes down, stacking the bases for a triumphant closing medley of Ready For The Floor, Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere and Hold On. Highlight: Over and Over.
24: First Aid Kit. Rough Trade East (January)
Often bands playing Rough Trade comment on the lack of raucousness in the audience. This was one where a quiet, appreciate, record shop crowd probably fitted the occasion. They still look about 12, but the two ladies of First Aid Kit have a maturity of performance and harmonisation well beyond their years. Highlight: The Lion’s Roar.
25: The Invisible Republic of JuJu. London Pleasure Gardens (July)
Formerly of Jah Wobble’s Invaders of The Heart and collaborator with Robert Plant, Brian Eno and Tinariwen, Justin Adams has also worked recently with ritti player Juldeh Camara, bassist Billy Fuller and drummer Dave Smith as JuJu. For the River of Music Africa Stage they surrounded their desert psych and jazz drone with a number of North African guest players and singers for a glorious union celebrating the ‘the invisible republic’ of collaborating musicians and interacting cultures.
Ooh, so close: A Place To Bury Stangers (Cargo), Beach House (Brighton Haunt), Hejira (Bethnal Green Sebright Arms), Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (ATP @ Butlins Minehead), K-X-P (Corsica Studios), Lower Dens (Islington Lexington), The Megaphonic Thrift (Shoreditch Old Blue Last), Scratch Acid (ATP @ Butlins Minehead), Squarepusher (Hackney Empire), Underground Railroad (Hoxton Macbeth)
other song ‘highlights’ from the year’s gigging
American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet (ATP @ Minehead Butlins)
Beak>, Yatton (Islington Lexington)
Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny, Sweet tooth Bird (Apple Cart Festival @ Victoria Park)
Billy Bragg, Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards/I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles/A New England (Apple Cart Festival @ Victoria Park)
Bis, Eurodisco (Lexington)
Blurt, Enemy Ears (Lewisham Fox & Firkin)
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Merciless And Great (Hackney Empire)
Dead Rat Orchestra, the one with the percussion provided in the beer garden via axes and a log (Lewisham Fox & Firkin)
Hejira, Litmus Test (Bethnal Green Sebright Arms)
Here We Go Magic, Make Up Your Mind (Field Day @ Victoria Park)
The Hives, Walk Idiot Walk (Roundhouse)
The Imagined Village, Bending The Dark (BT London Live @ Victoria Park)
James Yorkston & The Athletes, I Know My Love (Cecil Sharp House)
Jeff Mangum, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (ATP @ Minehead Butlins)
Joanna Newsom, Inflammatory Writ (ATP @ Minehead Butlins)
The Levellers, One Way (BT London Live @ Hyde Park)
Low, Murderer (ATP @ Minehead Butlins)
Megadeth, Never Dead (Download @ Donington Park)
Metronomy, Love Underlined (Brixton Academy)
Ministry, N.W.O. (Kentish Town Forum)
MJ Hibbett & The Validators, Easily Impressed (Wilmington Arms)
Moon Duo, I Can See (Elephant & Castle Corsica Studios)
New Build, Do You Not Feel Loved (Rough Trade East)
Nina Nastasia, Jimmy’s Rose Tattoo (ATP @ Camber Sands Pontins)
Public Image Limited, Death Disco (Rochester Castle)
Robyn Hitchcock, Uncorrected Personality Traits (ATP @ Minehead Butlins)
Soundgarden, Black Hole Sun (Download @ Donington Park)
Toy, Left Myself Behind (Shacklewell Arms)
The Wedding Present, Corduroy (Los Angeles Troubadour)
All Our Yesterdays – The Top 5’s
1=: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins @ Union Chapel
1=: Nisennenmondai @ Kentish Town Forum
3: The Magic Band @ Nottingham Rescue Rooms (et al)
4: Gaggle @ Rough Trade East
5: Kap Bambino @ Krems Messangelände
1: tUnE-yArDs @ Shoreditch Cargo.
2: Low @ Primavera Sound
3: The Fall @ Primavera Sound
4: Edwyn Collins @ Bowlie II (ATP)
5: The Hidden Cameras @ Shoreditch St Leonards Church
1: Amiina @ Shoreditch St Leonards Church
2: Transglobal Underground @ Shoreditch Rich Mix
3: Future Islands @ University of London Union
4: Veronica Falls @ Spitalfields Rough Trade East
5: Pet Shop Boys @ Greenwich O2
1: Tilting & Drifting: The Songs Of Scott Walker @ Barbican Theatre
2: Danananananakroyd @ Islington Lexington
3: The B-52’s @ Camden Roundhouse
4: Killing Joke @ Kentish Town Forum
5: Billy Childish & The Musicians Of The British Empire @ Dalston Barden’s Boudoir
1: Carla Bozulich @ Spitalfields The Spitz
2: The Fall @ Hammersmith Palais
3: Rarely Seen Above Ground @ Whitechapel Art Gallery
4: Tim Ten Yen @ Brixton Windmill
5: Yndi Halda @ London Blow Up Metro
1: Cardiacs @ London Astoria
2: Shitdisco @ Liverpool Barfly
3: Only Son @ Liverpool Carling Academy 2
4: Stuffy/The Fuses @ Herne Hill Half Moon
5: Gogol Bordello @ Manchester Academy 2
1: The Magic Band @ Liverpool Carling Academy 2
2: Architecture In Helsinki @ Liverpool Barfly
3: Schwervon @ Liverpool Zanzibar
4: Cranebuilders @ Liverpool Carling Academy 2
5: Thee More Shallows @ Liverpool Hev’n & Hell
1: Charlie Parr @ Leeds Packhorse
2: Soweto Gospel Choir @ Edinburgh St Georges West
3: The Magic Band @ Highbury Garage
4: Nina Nastasia with Huun-Huur-Tu @ Leeds City Varieties
5: Kid Carpet @ Liverpool Barfly
1: Low @ Islington Union Chapel
2: Jeffrey Lewis @ Leeds Royal Park Cellars
3: Olympic Lifts @ Southampton Joiners
4: The Kills @ Southampton Joiners
5: Melt Banana @ Liverpool Magnet
1: The White Stripes @ Leeds Festival
2: Cardiacs @ London Astoria
3: The Polyphonic Spree @ Leeds Festival
4: Motel @ Portsmouth Horseshoe
5: Nina Nastasia @ Spitalfields The Spitz
1: Cardiacs @ London Astoria
2: Lonnie Donegan @ Guilford Festival
3: The Monsoon Bassoon @ Highbury Garage
4: Muse @ Portsmouth Guildhall
5: Ed Harcourt @ Guilford Festival
Gallon Drunk, Underground Railroad, Snack Family
Hoxton Macbeth. 22nov12.
Sometimes conditions are just right and here at the Hoxton Macbeth it was all set fair for a night of sweaty, squalling rock n’ roll; the audience packed tightly into a backstreet boozer with its walls painted in the sleaziest of reds and lit like a tart’s boudoir.
Snack Family open the evenings business slithering about the place like a pencil-‘tached anaconda, a Tom Waits like growl and a smouldering chasm of baritone sax adding to the speakeasy vibes.
Ramping up from the Family’s slinky bedrock, Underground Railroad kick on the pace, merging the rock n’ roll vibes with a post-punk sensibility. J.B. Ganivet, looking like the eighteenth Beatle, wheels away at his bass like Pete Townsend trying to sculpt flint using only his thumb-nail; while his guitarist Marion Andrau and drummer Raphael Mura share the vocals around like a passed parcel at a child’s birthday party. It is assured and a little aloof, but in the very best way; a little mystique never hurt anyone.
There’s nothing stand-offish about Gallon Drunk. More stand in-ish, as frontman James Johnston (pictured*) spends the entire set indulging in some front-row frottage whilst slinging his guitar about with such carefree abandon that the less attentive audience member remains permanently in peril of a blithe biffing.
As stated earlier, the atmosphere is ideal for this kind of behaviour. Nothing’s perfect though, and the ceiling could probably be lower, it be summer and sweat be dripping down the walls, but as a request this probably ranks up there with complaining that the Lexus you’re getting for your 16th birthday has turned up before your party and thus ruined your life. I’m really not that spoiled, honest.
Besides, Gallon Drunk more than make up for these minor troublings with sharp organ stabs, Terry Edwards’ peel-yer-knickers-off sax action and a rhythm section so muscular it could bench press a tractor. Bad Servant live in particular kicks its recorded LP version into a clammy hat stained by sweaty salt deposits. This gust underpins Johnston who captivates the room whilst prowling and perspiring.
At the end of the main set, blurring the stage line further, his guitar is given to a random punter to clang their contribution to the crescendo and there is almost a fight to be the one providing the ham-fisted blam. You can’t blame people getting over excited though; who wouldn’t want to contribute to a Gallon Drunk set when they’re on this form?
*picture found online from a previous show
Taken at face value, one might easily lump Bo Ningen into a Japrocksampler-made-flesh corner, and bandy the names of Kawabata Makoto, Yamantaka Eye and the Flower Travellin’ Band around as though to suggest they can only be a product of their ethnicity and cultural heritage.
Bo Ningen might be as Japanese as kabuki theatre in their skin and bone, but their psyche rock business owes as much to the West as it does to the Far East. They were formed and are based in London, and although no fans of contemporary UK music per se, wrap around elements of kosmische musik’s cylical ethereality; the darker, less Arthurian end of prog and the drawn-out freakout end of the garage rock n’ roll scene.
This year’s album release, their second proper, Line The Wall is a triumphant LP which does a great job of capturing the band’s remarkable live energy. Soko burns like revving tyres, while Henkan undulates and pops like a lava lamp roasting on an open fire. Here they do the same, only more so.
For while the record provides good after-the-fact evidence of their action, it’s not a perfect encapsulation. On your compact disc or vinyl platter, or within the coding of your mp3, you won’t see bassist/vocalist Taigen’s mouth gurning and wrapping around itself as though in the eye of a wind-tunnel’s gusto. You won’t see the guitars spinning and jutting, strafing the front row like annoyed seagulls. What’s more, you won’t feel your eyelids flap up like roller blinds, nor sense that all the eyelids around you are equally peeling back as easily as a satsuma’s suit. Startling then, to cut a long eyelid-heavy story short.
A Bo Ningen show crackles with shared delight and even here, at a Rough Trade East instore, where audiences tend to be quiet and performances low-key, a heat develops, the band handling this show like any other, where they treat their instruments like bare-knuckle sparring partners, climb the speakers and plant down a flag for their own world wherever a stage will attempt to contain them.
With each Bo Ningen show I have attended, they have been twice as good as the previous occasion. If these trends continue, they will become the greatest band in the world about four gigs from now. On this form though, I can happily live with them plateauing out for a bit.
Evangelista, ?Alos, Keiki.
Brussels Les Ateliers Claus. 14sep12.
Western continental Europe has produced male/female perky pop duos of distinction before; Persil, of Amsterdam, bubbling instantly to mind. To them we can now add Brussels-based pair of Dominique Van Cappellen-Waldock and Raphaël Rastelli, gathered here under the name Keiki. Their bio and websites like to play up the idea of them being evil and satanic, and yet at first glance they appear far more likely to turn up at a petting zoo than a blood sacrifice.
We can assume that all this is tongue-in-cheeky, especially when you consider that not only do they sing in English (Van Cappellen-Waldock being partly from British stock), but a Bonzo Dog absurdist English. The lyrics take a route from not wanting “to be your toothbrush” to “toad-in-the-hole” and “Skegness”. Amidst all this smirking silliness is an astutely sparingly-used theremin, and a cover of Black Sabbath that exchanges the Matthew Hopkins headgear for a conical party hat.
It is perhaps just as well that the witchfinder chic is out as following Keiki comes pagan-performance-punk ?Alos who appears clad in black, face daubed with charcoal stitch-lines and red smears, and with several bells knitted into her ankle-length dreadlocks. The locks sway, causing a delicate twinkle, as the audience envelops her off-stage wanderlust, but this is the calm after a storm that initially takes in primal screams, unsettling plainchant and abrasively droning doom chords.
Carla Bozulich also has the ability to take a room by the scruff of its neck, tease it, terrify it, and walk amongst it unconcerned with boundaries. Tonight, however, she remains stage bound with her three touring bandmates Tara Circus Barnes, John Eichenseer and Dominic Cramp, collectively known as Evangelista. Tied to her post she might be, but with a voice that goes from brittle heartbreak to fire n’ brimstone retribution at a stroke, Carla is a presence that captivates from wherever she is choosing to perform.
Doffing a Stetson towards her country-rock past, the set opens with a couple of numbers by one of her many previous bands The Geraldine Fibbers; Outside of Town and Lilybelle. Indeed, it is quite a career umbrella of a set with Underdog by the Scarnella record made with Nels Cline, all the way to Let It Roll, a staple of Carla’s recent duet sets with Eichenseer (the economic reality being that it cannot always be the full band that tours). For the completest, all it needs is for something from her full LP cover of Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger to appear and for Ethyl Meatplow’s Happy Days, Sweetheart record to receive acknowledgement in song.
Needless to say, all of the four solo/Evangelista records from the past six years are represented, with You Are A Jaguar padding around its cage territorially, Artificial Lamb gradually applying layers of warming and cloaking pelt to its frail skeleton and a cover of Low’s Pissing that stays faithful whilst also taking it a little darker, further down into the cave.
It is during these latter numbers where old musician friends from Brussels join on percussion and cello, adding to the semi-improvisational drone and clatter sequences in Winds Of St Anne and Hello, Voyager. The latter is a collision of drums, with Carla rapping on a marching snare and bellowing like a soapbox street preacher. “This is me selling you out, when you needed me most” she hollers, the power and exhalation of confession and denunciation clambering over the violin twists, the cathartic hammer-on-skull drums and the eerie, psychopathic composure of certainty that underpins all this turbulence.
However, it is Winds Of St Anne that takes the prize as the set highlight, as it crawls through the haze of an Arabian desert-scrape, ridden with the impact sweat of the dry heat, the lyrics anticipating a new life in preparatory stream of consciousness (“When the wind blows, there are no rules”) as the bursts of excitement leave a tension in their wake.
John Maus, Peepholes, The Pheromoans
Upset The Rhythm began promoting shows in London nine years ago and are noted champions of the awkward, the noisy and the obscure, particularly those from overseas wanting to test themselves in the UK. It is thanks to them that I have been able to check out acts such as Quintron & Miss Pussycat, Nisennenmondai, Omar Souleyman, Future Islands and tUnE-yArDs live for the first time, and in all these cases, far from the only time.
From 2005 onwards, Upset The Rhythm launched a record label, and possibly their most successful release thus far has been John Maus’ 2011 LP We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves which featured in a number of end-of-year Top 10’s, including my own. Thus it is no surprise that when UTR throw their ‘Summer Shop Window’ label showcase that it is Maus they fly over from Minnesota to headline.
However, as well as getting behind esoteric artists from abroad, UTR are also keen to big up more local turns on their label and support comes from The Pheromoans and Peepholes. The former provide largely shambling nonsense that isn’t nearly as daring and strident as others on the label. However, having ho-hummed through their opening quintet of tunes, they then drop Deport Little John which, like The Coral’s early single Skeleton Key (this was before The Coral fully acquiesced to the requirements of Radio 2), fires off in all directions like a Beefheartian nail bomb. At this point, the drooping eyelids flap back up, startled, like a self-retracting tape measure. More of that please, chaps.
Since checking out their 90 seconds of blissful chaos Ladder on YouTube, I have taken a keen interest in Peepholes. It doesn’t appear in tonight’s set but not to the detriment of it. Peepholes can be a little awkward in their stage craft which isn’t helped here by a fidgety drum set causing continual trouble. However a packed Scala forgive these minor shortcomings and raise the roof on their departure, having been blown away by a peacock display of assertive synths, rattling drums and a psychedelic yelp that nods towards Zombie Zombie and the evening’s headliner. A reception for which the pair look duly humbled.
If Peepholes’ synths-and-singing-drummer duo seems like a spartan operation, then John Maus can certainly trump them on that score, having the same set-up as an X-Factor semi-finalist’s lunchtime PA in a shopping centre: vocal mic, backing tracks at the touch of a button and, err.., that’s it. However this basic staging is enough to stimulate a near riot of wild bouncing abandon, the Maus mania at one point seeing one young lady crawling across the stage for the chance to paw at her hero.
Perhaps she was inspired to offer a comforting shoulder given how much Maus stage behaviour often comes close to cathartic self-flagellation. He beats his chest like a gorilla trying to chase away a safari group. He soaks his vocals in reverb suggesting Ian Curtis in an echo chamber fronting The Normal. He bangs his head like there’s a rubber room somewhere with his name on the door. He bellows repeatedly in the ‘instrumental’ breaks with what I can only describe as triumphant anguish.
Some will look at all this with bafflement but there is no denying that Maus can light a fire in a room. This might be man-and-mic karaoke but the secret to its allure is in the vigour, and violence, of the performance.
Victoria Park. 02jun12.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed, and the horror stories of previous Field Days abounded. Inability to get into tented stages, too many tickets sold for the space, poor sound and organisation. Given what I’ve witnessed at the 1-2-3-4 in the past, organisational chaos seems de rigueur for east London park festivals, so the expectations were kept low.
However, Field Day organisers appear to have listened, increasing the size of the tents, having the bare minimum of side flaps so over spilling punters might still see and hear, whilst the sound across the site appeared adequate, apart from perhaps for the poor old Farnborough Marching Band, invited here for no discernible reason, given the task of competing with the bleed from about four stages without amplification. Plus they weren’t even marching. It would, I imagine be as frustrating an experience for them as it apparently was for those who got caught in the tickets/security gate rush-hours outside.
Arriving before mid-day and the first act meant sailing straight through the high-viz clad hefties and the sniffer dogs and heading straight for the furthest part of the site to be greeted by the horrifically youthful Two Jackals (Laneway Stage) kicking in with their attempt to fit into the cupboard with Editors and Interpol. Youth means parading badges of identity and as time goes on hopefully they will add more of their own stamp to the alt.rock noir formula.
Another journey across the entire site finds Julia Holter (BleeD/Lanzarote Stage) who operates on the line between Juliana Barwick’s ethereality, James Blake’s use of space and the sprite-like court songs of the Sea Nymphs. Her voice seeps out like a message sent off in a bottle on the ebb of her eerie synths and bob of the strident cello.
The shoes take another battering as its back to the Laneway Stage to pin down New Yorkers Here We Go Magic. That, though, is not easy as they work through songs that doff caps to both Talking Heads and Captain Beefheart, Make Up Your Mind particularly sounding like desert blues giving up its day job to go to art school. It’s a top pop moment, and they have plenty of them, whilst also having the confidence to taper a tune down to the pace of the early Low records then wind up into ELO pomp.
Com Truise (BleeD/Lanzarote Stage) is the first of the day’s solo performers, stood stoic behind laptop and bits, operating a mellow electroacoustic groove. Later in the day, Gold Panda and Grimes both fill out the Village Mentality Stage with their more lively takes on sole operator electro, although the latter added a dancer in a gimp mask to add to the visual spectacle. Not the she needed to as the self-confessed timid live performer of her early years leaps around with engagingly giddy abandon herself, and is riding such a wave of goodwill at present ( as a densely packed, noisily excited, tent made clear) it would have been hard for her to screw this one up. Genesis is a tiny diamond of a tune and is rightly saved for last.
Possibly the most surprising of the lone wolves is Laurel Halo (BleeD/Lanzarote Stage) who may be a short, Avril Lavigne-alike, but swings a huge dick. Loudly castigating us for not cheering our enthusiasm for Field Day loud enough, she then hits us with a sound like Fuck Buttons documenting a particularly harsh, and recent, hangover. After 10 minutes, vocals are layered in but the heft of the beats and the noise-ambient chaos mean they are like a young chorister singing from within the clutches of hell’s pit.
Not that ‘solo artists’ are confined here at Field Day to the world of the synth and the sequencer, nor to acting the loner. Guitarist David Pajo, formerly of Slint, appears alongside a bass player, and is on hand to provide calming, lyricless, parched drone in his Papa M guise (Village Mentality Stage).
R. Stevie Moore is also a solo act, brought to band here, but possibly the ultimate solo act, having self-released over 400 lo-fidelity recordings and videos (collected now on YouTube), often through his own ‘Cassette Club’ (which became the ‘CD-R Club’ in 1999) and now on Bandcamp. He has been doing this since he was 16, which was in 1968, so he’s an elder statesman here, even though he has spent the vast majority of his career as an underground, outsider curiosity.
Recent championing by and Ariel Pink and Tim Burgess, the latter coming on late in the set to add awkward tambourine and backing vocals, and a return to full band live action has brought him to wider attention. Dressed in sweatpants, and sporting the kind of facial hair you can usually only get away with if you have an army of elves in your employ, the eccentricity is clearly of the cuddly ‘hey everybody, I’ve just dyed my beard blue’ kind. R. Stevie projects a wavering baritone onto his sharp rock and his pop whimsy, but then on I Like To Stay Home unleashes a growling bark that Jazz Coleman would rank amongst his best. A reason to be cheerful, certainly.
Now, going from R. Stevie Moore to Liars (Eat Your Own Ears Stage) via the W.I. tea and cake marquee must rank as one of the great festival stage transfers, as Liars put in an astounding, authoritative performance on the main stage as the sun made virtually its only appearance all day. I have seen the New York trio on three occasions now and they have gone from ‘mmm, not sure’ in 2003 to ‘hey these are alright’ last year to ‘I must gather all of their records’ in 2012. I have some catching up to do, clearly.
Never ones to sit still, new LP WIXIW is yet another change of direction, and they showcase it here, thunderous beats and ambient electro building up from the wide-pupilled alt.rock foundations, and occupying a world of its own. In the end, technical issues mean they are cut short with a comically cod-Cockney, but terse, “’appy birfday to the Queen” as their parting remark.
Another act ploughing their own particular furrow are Chicago’s Tortoise (Village Mentality Stage) who are considered doyens of post-rock, but yet break free of the shackles of these connotations, swapping instruments regularly through, amongst other things, guitars, two drum sets and two vibraphones. The result of his manoeuvring is a music informed by jazz, post punk and their own lounge take on math rock and for all its standing as cerebral ‘head music’, the effect on body movement throughout the tent is clear to see.
To close proceedings at the Village Mentality Stage, California’s Mazzy Star, recently reformed after over a decade apart, are tasked with coaxing us into the night. As such, their shoegazing Americana acts as a series of gentle lullabies as the rain and the dark descends.