Archive for August, 2008

Live: The Warlocks, Engine Room, Brighton

August 31, 2008

So here we are again. Listening to a single chord, stretched out to encompass a million possibilities: filtered through circuits and electronic gates, treated, distorted, echoing, abused, spinning off into an almost infinite series of sounds within sounds, suggestions, associations, layers and angles, as though sound were light, passing through a hall of funhouse mirrors on its cyclical journey around this hot and dingy basement club. How can such deliberate simplicity and repetition never grow old or stale? To those of us doomed to worship forever in the temple of droning, harmonic noise it retains a hypnotic power and freshness, mystically reborn each time and causing other, more complex and melodic styles of music to seem almost facetious and unsatisfactorily ephemeral by comparison. The Warlocks’ churning psychedelia moves slowly uphill, bearing its own crucifix towards Calvary, and we follow dancing behind.

Tonight’s show nearly didn’t happen. ‘Technical failure’ pushed the door times back from 7.30 to 9, meaning supporting sets from Esben and the Witch and The Kool-Aid Electric Company were cancelled altogether, and clusters of pale-faced club rats watched an impressively flaming sun setting orange and egg-like over the beach, before being allowed back into their natural habitat. Some trouble with monitors, apparently, although that may have been the least of it. There was no way the 10.30 curfew could be extended either, as heroic promoters ‘Put It On’ found themselves stuck between a rock night and a hard place (forgive me…).

However, in the event The Warlocks rose to the challenge to deliver an incandescent set that fully justified our long wait. A short-haired Bobby Hecksher seemed in surprisingly ebullient spirits, while Amazonian bassist Jana Risher proved both solid rhythmic anchor and pleasing visual foil, literally giving Bobby a cowboy-booted kick up the arse on more than one occasion. Regular guitarists Ryan and JC were joined by a mysterious fourth axeman, hunched in hat and scarves and impressive classical tattoos stage left, and sadly only a single drummer, though whether the Engine Room’s cramped stage could have accommodated any more musicians is debatable. But when they played a well-received brace of Phoenix era numbers mid-set, including ‘Shake the Dope out,’ ‘Hurricane Heart Attack’ and ‘The Dope’s No Good,’ I missed the duelling beats and pounding cross-rhythms of the two-drummer line-up from that era.

Ultimately though it hardly mattered, any more than the abscence of The Warlocks usually overwhelming fog of dry ice did. It was great to hear the darker and denser songs from last year’s excellent Heavy Deavy Skull Lover album being given a live workout, and the band even managed an encore, Bobby strutting the boards sans guitar and thrusting his mic into the protesting, overloaded amps as effects pedals were sorely abused all round and the other Bob, behind his kit, did his best to drum for two. The Warlocks finished on a high; the hill climbed, their cross erected. Now- how do we get back down?

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Live: Nisennenmondai, the Freebutt, Brighton

August 4, 2008

My new discovery: though certainly not an unknown band judging from the chatter buzzing around the net when I tried to google them, Nisennenmondai are an outfit I’d never heard of until last night, and who still remain amazingly underexposed considering just how jaw-droppingly good they were. Three skinny Japanese girls playing infectious, noisy, kraut-metal-disco-post rock; but more in a moment. First, a word or two on the more than worthy support acts.

Bad Orb opened the evening: Sarah from Jettatura stood behind a mad scientist’s lab table of gadgets and devices, tape players, little toy keyboards and mixers, gradually building up one long sonic piece layer by layer that sounded like the soundtrack to the creepiest of horror films, or actually the noises from beyond conjured up at your last acid-assisted ouija board session. Whispering, chattering voices gnawed at the periphery of our consciousness, unintelligible but certainly unfriendly I’d guess, while bleak winds blew across vast desert plains and a cosmic drone shifted in pitch and tone throughout. Musically, it was extremely impressive; as a performance, less so, feeling more like an art installation than any kind of interactive musical experience. But that’s the nature of a night like this, I guess. Was it a one-off? If so, I’m certainly glad I caught it.

Little Creature was next, another experimental solo turn and one that I had mixed feelings about. As this kind of thing goes, it wasn’t bad, but I think now I’ve seen enough contemporary avant-garde music of this nature to start to be a little more discerning about it. Yes, we’re here to be open-minded and encourage experimentation for its own sake, but there are certain paths that we really only need to go up so many times, certain experiments that have already been carried out and the results duly noted. Just because the sound made is never going to be commercially popular doesn’t neccesarily make it avant-garde and original: it often just means that its an unpleasant, unmelodic noise.

It’s wrong of me in a way to heap all this on Little Creature, as in a way he wasn’t bad, but these were the thoughts running through my head as I watched his set. Loop pedals, for instance, have grown old quickly: only a couple of years ago, they seemed to open up all kinds of exciting possibilities in the hands and feet of someone like Alexander Tucker, but now they just seem lazy and gimmicky when every noodling guitar boy has got one so that he can jam with himself to his heart’s content. Watching Clive Henry playing skronking sax into a variety of effects pedals and manipulating the resulting electronic noise, I confess to a certain sense of ‘So what?’ These are electronic devices mass produced for manipulating sound; that’s what they do. But where is the soul? And what’s it all meant to mean?

I’m probably in entirely the wrong place, I guess, if I want things to mean something. What a quaint, old-fashioned question! But it’s the saxophone’s fault. When Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler and John Coltrane and the other pioneers of free jazz first started playing this kind of noisy, atonal, freeform skronk back in the 60s, it meant something alright. These were musicians whose instincts naturally turned to melody and beauty, who had striven all their lives to represent the ecstasy of living, loving, and the profound sadness of these things too. They turned from that to noise because they felt they were backed into a corner; it was an extreme protest against the treatment of black men and women in a white world, a historical acknowledgement of solidarity with the Black Panthers and the urgency of the civil rights movement. It was shocking, and it was meant to be: it was the only way to express the pain and frustration of their situation, even if it meant destroying the very thing- beauty, melody, rhythm- that they loved the most.

And now here we are, and that musical heritage is just a meaningless toy in the hands of priviledged white boys, making harsh, non-committal, masturbatory noise to each other and desperately avoiding communicating anything resembling meaning or emotion.

But, having got that of my chest, there was much I enjoyed about Little Creature’s set. Particularly when he turned to a deconstructed guitar, laid on the stage on its back, which he ‘played’ by touching it lightly with a spinning cymbal. Also the music box- like player piano strips which evoked a childlike innocence amid the noise. But there I go, looking for meaning and significance again. Ignore me.

Vitamin B12 are often a hit-or-miss proposition for precisely the reasons mentioned above, but tonight they were triumphant. With three members onstage and another four (I think) scattered around the room, which was plunged into darkness apart from a selection of intermittently flashing coloured lights which dictated the performance of the individual musicians. That is, they each improvised in time to the flashing of a different light, with instruments ranging from electric guitar, flute and some kind of woodwind instrument to electronic devices including one that triggered huge booming beats like the pounding of a slaver’s drum. The result was a total sensory experience, the audience immersed in a mesh of white noise assaulting you from all angles. You’d never know what gentle, mild-mannered chaps they are from this Throbbing Gristle-worthy performance. P-Orridge would be proud!

So, back to Nisennenmondai. As I said, they were a revelation. Despite some initial teething problems, and a bass drum determined to vibrate its way across the stage and into the audience, this youthful trio managed to lock together quite spectacularly on three lengthy pieces that compelled you to shake your ass throughout even as you marvelled at the beauty of their deceptively simple arrangements. I haven’t been able to find out their individual names, but the drummer was definitely the star; a blur of swinging pony tail and flailing sticks, maintaining a solid disco pulse as in the main she restricted herself to kick and ride, hitting snare and toms only when absolutely neccesary, and so locking into that almost-sexual pattern of tension and release that distinguishes all the best dance music. The bass was restricted to the most minimal of punk-funk figures, laying down a repetitive, Pigbag-like groove, while the guitarist almost seemed to be playing high school metal riffs, utilising the ubiquitous loop pedal but only in a functional way, not allowing it to dominate any more than the wah-wah, distortion or any of the rest of her admirably basic FX set-up.

All clad in matching white linen sleeveless dresses over black leggings, Nisennenmondai (the name means either ‘two thousand years of trouble’, which I prefer, or ‘Year 2000 problem,’ relating to the Millennium Bug of yore, which is more likely), recall the irresistible post-kraut grooves of a more guitar-led Holy Fuck, or perhaps Battles if they weren’t a bunch of irritating prog-rock musos. There’s a Japanese lineage too, going back to The Boredoms and Keiji Haino, but they’re equally akin to Neu! or Can, or for that matter some kind of power trio heavy metal take on Chic. But I’m grasping at straws now. If you like post-rock that you can dance to, that can take you to the same places the best raves did back in the nineties, that’s sexy and psychedelic and doesn’t smell of chess clubs and chin-stroking nerds with pocket calculators- go see Nisennenmondai. Before they explode.