Saturday, 24 January 2015

ENCASED IN SOUND (HOW PUNK MET METAL - AND BOTH BEGAT DRONE): 3. DESTROY! ANNIHILATE! INCINERATE!


Our punk/metal/drone comparison timeline reaches the Eighties and even touches on the Nineties. (First part covers the Sixties here while the second recounts the Seventies over here.)

Black Flag: 'My War' (1984)


Black Flag were our man at the crossroads, this is the the point where the streams cross. People argue over who first hit on the phrase “like a cross between Black Flag and Black Sabbath”. But there's no real debate over the first band to do it – and that band was Black Flag themselves. Which makes the crossover more significant. Black Flag hasn't been a hardcore band, they'd virtually been the hardcore band. They were the one who defined the sound – angry, direct, assertive, uncompromising, and above all over inside of two and a half minutes.

Moreover, legal problems had prevented the workaholic and once-prolific band releasing anything for the past three years. (Once off the leash, they released two further albums before '84 was even up.) And in the intervening time their sound had shifted massively, shaving off the punk spikiness for something much more sludgy, more glowering, more ominous – more (you guessed it) Black Sabbath. All of which accentuated the sense that they were not just now slow but anti-fast, like a calculated rebuke to the jock slamdancers. (In that way it also weirdly seems to match the mood of some of the more primal-screamy stuff off Lennon's 'Plastic Ono Band', such as 'God'.)

If it sounds unbelievably bleak, hold it up against their earlier output - it just gets darker. Earlier lyrics slipped into the united third person as easily as the Doors track from the first part (“We are tired of your abuse/Try to stop us, its no use”), this time its all first person versus third. It's like Sartre's 'No Exit' in song form. “You say that you're my friend/But you're one of them” is like the end-point of existentialism, an accusation hitched on the back of an tautology. Notably, Rollins sings as if facing down his audience rather than performing to them. This confrontational interview with him, simultaneously hilarious and excruciating, dates from the same era.

“Destroy! Annihilate! Incinerate!” You have now reached utter nihilism. All change please...


Bad Brains: 'I Against I' (1986)


Followers of Rastafarianism, the band would have been familiar with and probably used the Rasta expression “I and I”. (Used in daily speech, such as “I and I need to sign on next Tuesday”, but to signify spiritual connection - “Jah and I”.) Except of course they invert it to depict modern America as in the most ungodly of states – the war of each against all, which can only serve to bring us all down. In that sense, despite their outward similarities, it's almost the counter to 'My War' - it rails against a situation in which its companion virtually revels. (“I said whose gonna tell the youth about...the rotten stinkin' rackets and the fantasies around the nation.”) Not for the first time HR sounds almost like a preacher as he cries “I tell you the truth is looking straight at you!”

As I often like to point out, great bands are able to straddle apparent contradictions, and Bad Brains could sound heavy at the same time they sounded lithe and nimble. Their roots were as a jazz fusion band and those roots never quite went away.

This was about the point where I'd first left home and was going to see bands. While at school there'd been a virtual Berlin wall between the punks and the headbangers, by then it simply never occurred to me to try and divide up the bands I was seeing into punk and metal categories. Slightly earlier than that other wall, the barriers had been busted down.


More than usual, this next one ain't for the fainthearted...

Swans: 'Coward' (1986)


This is Swans from their early brutal noise era, described by the uploader as “cathartic performance, mountains of sound without melody”. I went a little back and forward about including this, as it could be said to really belong in another timeline. Despite strong similarities to Black Flag's unremitting bleakness, the band came more from the New York noise and art punk scene than from hardcore. Hardcore fundamentalists often nursed an antipathy to 'bohemian' New York, and it may be notable that every subsequent name on this list (with one exception) will be West Coast. For his part frontman Gira despised metal so much he was known to attack audience members for headbanging. (I shall leave it to the reader's judgement whether he himself is headbanging in this clip.)

All of which might go some way to explaining my wondering whether this band actually belong here. But they were perhaps the ultimate in boiling music down to a blunt instrument. Why go for more when you can just have less? The pummelling force denies any concept of release, rock without the roll. (Try imagining dancing to this.) Like the Stooges, its stripped back to such a degree you can't tell any more whether its regressive or avant garde. There's the lyrical parallels between themes of annihilation and transcendence, as can be found in many other places round here. Plus Gira even dedicated a later track ('Just a Little Boy' from 'To Be Kind') to Chester Burnett, real name of Howling Wolf. So the similarities are there, if not the direct links.

(I've written about the current incarnation of Swans not once but twice.)


Nomeansno: 'The Tower' (1989)


The Peanuts character Pigpen was always depicted carrying a cloud of dust around with him. Similarly, Nomeansno always seemed to be wading waist-deep in thick, thick bass. To look at Eighties hardcore and decide what it needed was to be more bass-driven and rhythmic, I'm not sure whether that took an excess of guts or a deficiency of reason. The band have since confirmed that they arrived at that sound simply because in the early days they didn't have anyone to play guitar.


Though perhaps their killer app was to stretch out songs from the standard abrupt hardcore length, and their Bad Brains-like ability to bend the music without breaking the heavy riffing. It was a style described as "Devo on a jazz trip, Motörhead after art school, or Wire on psychotic steroids”. In a scene which too quickly became identikit they were immediately recognisable as hardcore and completely unique at the same time.

I partly picked this track because of the uncanny ease with which they lyrically match punk existentialism to hard rock's dark romanticism. The human figure who narrates and the Tower/black obelisk he encounters are the ultimate irresistible force and immovable object combination. And “The sword is truth is just another weapon/ Let me live for one more second” must be one of the great opening couplets.


The Melvins: 'Boris' (1991)


Though the Melvins formed back in '83, and were important from early on, this may be the point they hit their lumbering epitome. (Even if it officially pushes us into the Nineties.) It sounds like a hardcore punk song stretched out and slowed down, like a single played on '33 with the bottom end of the sound turned up all the way. Rather than sluggish, the result is something remorseless. The way the distortion becomes part of the track is very similar to the Stooges or Motorhead. If Swans were like blows repeatedly pummelling you, the Melvins sound like a landslide slowly but surely tearing up everything in it's path. 

By going for weight not speed they allowed hardcore punk to escape from it's louder/faster corner, gave it a way to hook up with hard rock that bypassed all the then-trendy hair metal bollocks and piledrove a road that led to grunge. Though Flipper were also an important band, they were too arch, too bohemian, too native of San Francisco to truly embrace metal. Whereas the Melvins hailed from Washington state.

If Swans don't quite fit the family tree, the Melvins couldn't be any more in the DNA. Dale Crover drummed for an early version of Nirvana, while Buzz Osborne later introduced Dave Grohl to the rest of the band. Ex-bassist Matt Lukin went on to form Mudhoney. They've made albums with Jello Biafra, and legendary Japanese band Boris are named after this very track. The Melvins are one of those foundations bands, who most people haven't heard of but they made so much possible. (More by me on the Melvins here.)


Mudhoney: 'Touch me I'm Sick' (1988)


There's no doubting grunge rescued punk, ended its self-imposed cornering from the rest of the room and got it back into talking with other genres. (Something it had always done before all that dead-end harder-than-hardcore malarkey.) But while grunge did take up from the Melvins, that band had a definite metal influence while grunge was much more focused on classic rock. (Plus, though no-one ever seems to want to mention it, the fuzztoned Sixties garage punk of those fabled Nuggets and Pebbles compilations. Try playing this against the earlier Electric Prunes track.)

The title, simultaneously engaging and threatening, is pretty typical of punk's agitational engagement of the audience, and the band's black sense of humour. Mudhoney were, as an flue kno, the definitive grunge band, even if they weren't the best-known one. (More by me on Mudhoney here.)


Coming soon! The Nineties to the present day...

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

ENCASED IN SOUND (HOW PUNK MET METAL - AND BOTH BEGAT DRONE): 2. “TIME SEEMS LIKE IT'LL NEVER BEGIN”


The second instalment in this chronological playlist recounting how punk, metal and drone crashed into one another. The first part, set in the Sixties, can be found here. This time we turn to the Seventies...

Black Sabbath: 'Black Sabbath' (1970)


The riff to 'Black Sabbath' is the riff that launched a thousand bands, the riff that quite conceivably created a new style of music. I

Brian Eno once said he thought the appeal of metal was the feeling of being “encased in sound”. (A quote you may even remember from the title.) And that was never more clearly in evidence than here. Of the 'big three' bands that inaugurated hard rock (with Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple), Sabbath were the most proto-metal. It's all here in this track from their first album. Depending on who you talk to, they either renamed the band after it or named the track after the band's freshly minted new name. (They were previously a more bluesy outfit called Earth.) So even Sabbath themselves were effectively launched on the back of this.
The whole sound of the genre is there in that inaugural moment - the nightmarish intensity, the dirgey pace, the ominous guitar riff piling resonance onto dissonance until its notes never seem to end. Yes, the lyrics are typically endearingly goofy (“Satan’s coming ’round the bend/People running ’cause they’re scared”), but they work within the context of the music - which is all they need to do. (They were normally written last, and as chief word-writer Geezer Butler commented “You wanted to capture lyrically what [guitarist] Tony [Iommi] was doing musically”.) This track was one of those game-changer moments in music and continues to thrill the listener even today.
Yet in a sense it looked back as much as forward. That Doors trick of letting the drums fill out as the guitar's confined to the riff? Listen on... Yet there's important differences, which are what pushes Sabbath deeper into that sound. Even when the Sixties underground prophesied conflict and conflagration there was an underlying optimism to it all, perhaps summed up in the afore-mentioned Doors line “they got the guns but we got the numbers”. Whereas, Seventies working class Brummie lads, born to be factory fodder rather than frolic in fields, Sabbath were less convinced peace and love lay within arms reach. They would have probably replied, “yeah, but they've got the guns”. The Doors were inflammatory, and fire implies light. Whereas Sabbath were dark.
Faust: 'Party 2/ J'ai Mal Aux Dents' (1973)

Krautrock band Faust had a Dadaistic anti-music approach, typified here in the way the riff is chiefly provided by the insistently repeating backing vocals. They variously claim to have a pain in the teeth and in the feet, imparting this information in French despite the lead vocals being in English and the band being German. While the lead vocal reassures “you can hear it without shoes”. To Faust language is just a broken object you keep around for aesthetic reasons.
It's ridiculously simple, to the point of being metronomic, yet when you combine those simple elements the whole feels so much more like a sum of its parts. The way the keyboards float freely above the riff kind of reminds me of Wolf's howling in 'Smokestack Lightning'. It's neither cacophonous nor ordered, but somehow both at the same time. It's like the mental sparks struck by splicing together sewing machines and umbrellas in Surrealist poetry. I must have listened to it hundreds of times and I still have no idea whether its absolute genius or total wind-up.
But I guess what gives it its place in this timeline is that backing-vocal-as-riff motif. The rest of Sabbath used to marvel at guitarist Tommy Iommi's ability to keep coming up with great riffs, which they then just had to wrap a song around. But Faust aren't finding something they like so much they want to repeat it. They're starting with a nonsense phrase most probably chosen at random – the point comes from the repetition.
Perhaps befitting the art pranksters, I'm not even sure what date to put in this timeline. A version appeared on the early tape-collage LP 'The Faust Tapes', which in its first release at least eschewed a track listing. Different versions have since appeared under both titles under different compilations. (With the link below I've gone for a less fractured later version.) Which was all part of the band's plan to make releases into 'official bootlegs', designed to look more like bulletins than contemplative art objects, and never create a definitive version of anything. And they're still at it today...
Pere Ubu: '30 Seconds Over Tokyo' (1975)

The first ever single released by legendary Cleveland art-punkers Pere Ubu was split between the difficult, challenging B-side and the even-more difficult and challenging B-side. Both were written by Pete Laughner, then the mainstay of the band. I've gone for the B-side here. Simon Reynolds describes the track as “some loping, rhythmically sprained hybrid of Black Sabbath and reggae... lurches into a sort of doomladen canter, then expires in a spasm of blistered feedback”. (He goes on, including the phrase “scrofulous with twisted virtuosity”, in a description almost as enthralling as the track itself.)  
Indeed there’s the same sense of primarily sonic adventuring as we saw with Sabbath - rather than the music illustrating the words, the words exist to describe the ominous, ponderous music. There’s two separate references to the flow of time being arrested. (For example “This dream won't ever seem to end/ And time seems like it'll never begin.”) Notably it has a similar structure to 'Black Sabbath', deathly slow with sudden bursts of speed. (Though while Sabbath go for remorselessness, the artier Ubu throw in sudden and unexpected twists.) The imagery is often of the fantastical nature you expect more from hard rock than punk songs – strange gods, metal dragons. Overall, its probably punk-discovers-mogadon-riffs rather than punk-meets-metal. But its on the path.
The track draws both its title and scenario from a book and subsequent film of the bombing of Tokyo. The song then throws the later nuclear bomb into the mix. But all of that is only to describe the song’s inception. It takes an already indescribably horrific event, an upturned nail in world history and reflects it through a nightmarish distorting mirror. (“Some kind of dream world fantasy.”) The death-dealing American bomber is symbolically fused with the solitary Japanese kamikaze pilot. (“No place to run, no place to hide/ No turning back on a suicide ride.”)

But none of that is what the song is really about. Instead the lone destructive mission becomes a metaphor for the isolated artist, trapped in an antagonistic relationship with society. Thematically the nearest track to it would be This Heat’s ‘Not Waving But Drowning’, a song whose release was virtual career suicide and whose subject was career suicide. The payload the song drops on the “toy city” is in many ways the song itself. Unleashing it will most likely destroy everybody present. It’s plane as garret, studio as missile.

The history of Pere Ubu is uncannily similar to the story of Joy Division and New Order, the dark visionary character who created their early sound but whose early death necessitated a sudden change in approach. (Though in Laughner’s case there’s dispute over whether his was suicide.) David Thomas then took the lead, with an Ubu closer to the Alfred Jarry character that gave the band its name, grotesque and absurd. Thomas whinnied and raged like a devil clown inflamed and inflated by a cocktail of helium and hallucinogens. He would probably take great umbrage at the idea the band has anything in common with metal. He takes great umbrage at most things, after all. I went to see them not so long ago, and deranged they remain. But that’s a story for another time…

Motorhead: 'Motorhead' (1977)


Here we go with another band named after a song. As with Black Sabbath, this is 'Motorhead' appearing on 'Motorhead' by Motorhead. Sometimes you need to reinforce a point. Lemmy had written the song in '75 while still in Hawkwind, though they only used it for a B-side. He then re-used it two years later on Motorhead's eponymous first LP. And, as with Black Sabbath, it's the moment when he hit on his own sound. Of the three tracks he'd written during his Hawkwind stint to be used by Motorhead, it's the only one to sound better this way. The Hawkwind version is slightly too sedate to capture the reckless, restless mind of a speedfreak (“I should be tired/All I am is wired”), with the more relentless Motorhead version capturing the symbiosis of epiphany and psychosis. And, as with Black Sabbath, it was used to open the album. However the band didn't break through until later, and the version most remember - and linked to below - is a live rendition released in 1981. Lemmy later exulted he'd written the only hard rock song to contain the word 'parallelogram'.

Given that Motorhead's first gig was in '75 and even the classic Lemmy/Clarke/Taylor line-up was in place by March '76, I don't think the oft-cited line that the band were influenced by Brit punk really fits. True, Lemmy has said his original idea was a band “just like the MC5”. But their sound was essentially set before punk really broke over here. They and punk were fellow travellers, true, but they sprang from different starting blocks.

Yet when they did break through they became fantastically popular not just with metalheads or even with punks, but (perhaps most surprising of all) with the general record-buying public. A string of hit singles ('Motorhead' itself reaching number six) led their gnarly faces to incongruously appear alongside prettified pop stars on the likes of 'Top Of the Pops'.


Given such success, it might in retrospect seem odd how few doors the band knocked down, especially as their revved-up sound seemed custom-built for the purpose. Yet at the time they were somehow more beloved than influential.

Of course their main innovation, formally speaking, was to strip the blues base from under hard rock and so sharpen it into metal. But like the MC5 or the Stooges, their stripped-down sound was impossible to separate from their songs and made them something of an entity. They were to metal what 'Lord of the Rings' was to fantasy novels. They were so good at it they kind of defined the sound, creating a genre and taking command of it in one fell swoop.

And while they were the metal band loved by punks, they didn't influence punk music all that much. By the standards of their day, Motorhead were incredibly fast. But, particularly by the time it came to hardcore, punk's recipe was pretty much loud/fast already. At least initially, hardcore needed to assert its identity by upstaging punk – which meant being still-louder, still-faster and lightweights can leave if they like. It didn't need any lessons in being fast. Metal often sounded chugging and plodding by comparison, heavy but like a heavy truck – something to overtake on the motorway. 

What punk needed to be told was that it didn't have to be fast, that it could be released from that ever-accelerating trajectory, that fast can just be an obstacle to being heavy. (The 'fast-over-all' trajectory ended with grindcore bands such as Napalm Death performing tracks only a few seconds long.) Ultimately, Sabbath were probably more of an actual influence than Motorhead.


And speaking of which...

Well, stay tuned, kids!

Friday, 16 January 2015

ENCASED IN SOUND (HOW PUNK MET METAL - AND BOTH BEGAT DRONE): 1. 'NOT READY TO FACE THE LIGHT'


Muddy Waters famously sang “the blues had a baby and they called it rock'n'roll”. (Though perhaps both gospel and country should have been subject to a paternity test.) In a similar fashion, this post could be called something like “how punk and metal had a longstanding love/hate relationship, which somewhere along the way begat something new which mixed drone with more popular music styles”. Yep, I can just imagine Muddy singing something snappy like that.

It kind of outgrew my following – and making frequent nuisance calls to – Mike Taylor's heavy metal timeline. As Mike's list reached an era I confess to finding bog-standard and plodding, my mind started to refocus on a strand of music which may be less-trodden but which matters more to me. Anyone who followed Mike's timeline may find some of my comments here to evoke a sense of deja vu. Then again, arguably that's appropriate - for repetition becomes something of a theme. It also takes something of a scenic route, so please expect detours and digressions. In fact hesitation is about the only 'Just a Minute' rule that won't be broken.

(Disclaimer: drone music of course has its own history, with the Theatre of Eternal Music already performing in New York in the mid-Sixties. But that was really a scene of its own. We're talking about a separate history here, in which drone intermingles and crossbreeds with other, more 'popular' genres.)

We'll start with the pioneers, the prototypes and precursors and get on to the rest in future instalments. (Of which there'll be four.) And let's start the start by looking into the blues when it was first stretching its trousers and eating for two…

Howling Wolf: 'Smokestack Lightning' (1956)


This is one of my favourite tracks by my favourite blues artist, describedby Robert Palmer as “a hypnotic one-chord drone piece". Art can be like a dish, find it the right ingredients and you don't really need that many. 

But, particularly when adorned with Wolf's (there is no other word) howling, this sounds elegant as much as raw. It belies the listener with its simplicity. It's not deep or low or rumbling, it kind of floats. Plus, and not unassociatedly, as was often the case with Wolf's music there is something spectral, some taste of the unearthly to it. It sounds like music which could pass through walls. Which will be a bit of a theme here. Heaviness can be powerful. But lightness has its own effect.

Which kind of fits. Even today, some remain who try to pigeonhole blues as rural and primitive music – a basic crop waiting for smarter white people to come along and innovate cleverer stuff which incorporated it. But by this point, blues had become urban and urbane. Successful acts such as Wolf (and he was a huge hit among black audiences), sported smart suits. They only put on the dungarees and straw hats for white audiences.


Reader, the decade-long gap between this and the next selection, you will have to decide whether that describes the way it was or merely reflects the author's prejudices. But for my money rock'n'roll wasn't an advance on blues, any more than it was on gospel or country. There's rock'n'roll I like, of course. But it was like the arrival of Indian or Carribbean food in Britain, it was a watered-down product calculatedly softened to suit the more straightened pallettes of mainstream white society. Rock'n'roll was of course massively culturally important - in introducing black music to white people it broke a divide and completely changed music. We're still riding those shockwaves today. But to make that cultural impact it had to regress the actual music.

The Rolling Stones: 'The Last Time' (1965)


When talking of the precursors of heavy, riff-bases music it's normally the early Kinks or Who whose names get rolled out. But for our potted history this Stones track is much more important. The main difference between it and, say, ‘You Really Got Me’ lies in the riff itself. ‘Really Got Me’ has a propulsive riff. It’s a musical motif with a beginning, middle and end, even if its set to repeat. It’s effect is like the singer reciting the same words over and over. It’s a riff to power a song.

Whereas ‘The Last Time’ has a riff that’s still-more basic, to the point where it takes on a life of its own. The riff has it's own separate existence, merely framed by the song. It doesn’t really have a beginning or end. It just cycles, it oscillates. You can wrap a song around it, and they do. But it’s like wrapping a sock around a cosh. The cosh is it’s own thing. Particularly after this track, when making music the riff was out of the bag. (Is that mixing my metaphors? Well, you know what I mean!)
One time I saw Julian Cope line he deliberately failed to finish a song, reasoning that it was launched without being landed it would carry on in perpetuity. Similarly, there's something timeless about 'The Last Time'...
The Electric Prunes: 'I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)' (1966)

It's quite hilarious to discover that such a garage rock classic wasn't thrown onto tape by angsty, agitated youth but provided to order by a professional songwriting team (Annette Tucker and lyricist Nancie Mantz). Though quite consciously influenced by the Stones, and though the track's built round a classic riff, the riff isn't played perpetually in the same way. (That would be truer of the follow-up, 'Get Me To The World On Time'.) But for a good reason...
As we'll often find, the music and lyrics don't so much go together, like they've been allocated one another from some dating agency's database, as morph into one another. Though it approximates a love song, the lyrics are actually quite ambiguous whether the golden-haired girl was real or imaginary. Instead elements come and go, clash against one another, melodies become subsumed by riffs; it's deliberately discordant in order to convey a semi-psychotic state of mind. It was a theme familiar to garage rock; there was, for example the Swinging Medallion's 'Double Shot of My Baby's Love'. But the Electric Prunes were more... well... electric.
It's easy to imagine Sixties music started as sunny and blissed out, and soured as things wore on. But the hangover couldn't be any more present here. In many ways it sounds like the band are genuinely trying to perform a prettier, cheerier number but the weight of the truth comes crashing in. That fuzziness to the sound is important. Its that woozy, disorientating feeling you get when you look at the world through a fish-eye lens, captured in sound.
The Doors: 'Five To One' (1968)

A long-haired Californian band best known for love songs, whose sound prominently featured a swirling, melodic organ. And yet even at the height of punk's Year Zero rhetoric, where admission to liking Led Zeppelin was a worse sin than sporting a swastika, no-one was ever quite able to consign the Doors to history. A track like 'Five To One' might go some way to explain that.
Like 'The Last Time', it's a song wrapped around a crunching riff. The organ this time round doesn't get much chance to swirl. The doors of perception aren't so much cleansed as booted in. However, its chief significance is the way that crunching riff is so unhurried. Listening to it you can feel a little like the deer dazzled by the headlights of the lumbering juggernaut; theoretically you have time to move, but you can't. It just all feels too inevitable, somehow. There's a section where, with the guitar reduced to the riff, the drums fill out to occupy the space – watch out for that one.
And matching that riff is the confrontational nature of the lyrics. Dylan may have already written songs which dissed “you” in such a declammatory fashion, yet it gains a new impact when wedded to music of such thudding force. It was during a performance of this track where, in an infamous on-stage incident in Miami, a drug-addled Morrison derided the audience as “all slaves” and was nearly prosecuted for inciting a riot.
Yet despite that anecdote and despite the track being released in that most historic of years, the lyrics are most likely not as agitational as they appear. In the Sixties the situation was often seen as a generational war, leading to the popular saying “there's more of us being born and there's more of them dying”. (Of course hippies were only ever a minority even amongst the youth, so the idea was nonsense even as it was being uttered. But we're talking here about a perception.) “No-one here gets out alive” means we all go sometime, but they'll be first. “We've got the numbers” means, at some point or other, we're just going to replace them. “Five To One” doesn't match any actual social ratio that anyone's ever managed to come up with, and is a reference perhaps best understood by Morrison and his drug dealer. But it fuzzily fits inside this perception of it all being a matter of evening up the odds.
But that perception is what counts, for the song feels a whole new level of confrontational. Crucially, its not asking for anything. It's not a protest song or even a resistance song so much as a victory speech. (“We're going to Win/ Yeah, we're taking over/ Come on!”) Come to that, it's not even a particularly graceful victory speech, its more exultant and triumphalist. It's self-confident swaggar less resembles Jefferson Airplane's incendiary call to arms 'Volunteers' and is perhaps closer to something like Free's 'All Right Now', albeit with political victory replacing sexual conquest. It's stripped-down quality creates the same sense of space, like a drawing might creatively employ white space. Morrison part-slurs, part-proclaims the lyrics. (Some accounts claim he was drunk during the recording.) Notably, the hippie hopefully but hopelessly holding a flower is effectively likened to the wage slave “trading your hours of a handful of dimes”, both objects of derision. Turning up holding a flower for a track like this was just asking for trouble.
The Stooges: 'I'm Loose' (1970)

It can be as interesting who doesn't make a list like this as who does. The Velvets were influenced by the Stones' 'Last Time' and had the most clearly drone-based sound of all, even recruiting John Cale from the Theatre of Eternal Music. (Who took his scraping viola when he moved.) But they weren't really proto-metal in any way. Even as they were unhinged they were always somehow cerebral, like they were overdosing on street drugs and modern literature simultaneously. If they'd unleash the power of the drone in their music, it was in the way Prospero would conjure up storms.
It was the Stooges who were the Caliban-like creatures inside the drone.
Early on the Stooges had a more experimetal/drone sound, using extemporised instruments such as oil cans for drums or a vacuum cleaner to... well, most likely to create a vacuum cleaner sound. Iggy said later: “It was entirely instrumental at this time, like jazz gone wild. It was very north African, a very tribal sound: very electronic. We would play like that for about ten minutes. Then everrybody would have to get really stoned again... But what we put into those ten minutes was so total and so very savage - the earth shook, then cracked.” And even if that side of their sound later yielded to something closer to regular rock music, it never quite went away. It hung around like a ghost whose business on earth was not yet done.
In it's glorying in its own fucked-up-ness 'I'm Loose' is very much more proto-punk than proto-metal. But its significance is in the distortion not being trimmings, not there to enhance the song but very much part of the song. As with the Electric Prunes, it's not a song with a sound attached to it, the two can't be separated.
Punk had now shaken its six. Qualifier terms like 'proto punk' or 'garage punk' were no longer required. While with metal..

Friday, 9 January 2015

'COLOURS I'D NEVER SEEN' (ANOTHER SPOTIFY PLAYLIST)


Ladies and gentlemen, the latest Lucid Frenzy playlist is now available for your delicatation and pleasure. Mostly consisting of folk, blues and country but with some of that post-punk shennaigans thrown in for good measure. Just click the header...

The Waterboys: 'Malediction'
Jeffrey Lewis: 'The Gasman Cometh'
Arcade Fire: 'Windowsill'
Califone: 'Salt'
The Rolling Stones: 'I Got The Blues'
Hank Williams: 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry'
Odetta: 'Make Me a Pallet on the Floor'
Pentangle: 'Train Song'
Fotheringay: 'The Ballad Of Ned Kelly'
Sandy Denny: 'John The Gun'
June Tabor: 'She Moves Among Men (The Bar Maid's Song)'
Richard Thompson: 'King Of Bohemia'
Current 93: 'Kings and Things'
Tunng: 'King'
Mission Of Burma: 'Trem Two'
The Fall: 'Riddler!'
Gillian Welch: 'Wrecking Ball'

”I met a lovesick daughter of the San Joaquin
She showed me colours I'd never seen
Drank the bottom out of my canteen
Then left me in the fall
Like a wrecking ball"

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

HOMELAND/ BABYLON/ GOTHAM/ MARVEL AGENTS OF SHIELD (TV ADDICTIONS)

While I'd love for someone to read this blog and imagine I was constantly attending art gallery openings or standing at the front for thrilling, cutting-edge gigs, the truth is I pretty much stay home and watch the telly. Its getting so, if I spend too long in the kitchen, the sofa starts asking sarcastically if I know what the time is. So let's set the record straight with some recent small-screen highlights, presented here in random order...

HOMELAND


A fourth series of 'Homeland', taking place after Brody's fairly unamendable departure, did initially seem a shark-jumping moment. I was very much in two minds over whether to watch it at all. As things turned out, its been widely received as the best series since the first. Almost entirely relocating events to Islamabad and Kabul, it could even feel like a whole new series, which merely happened to have Carrie and some carry-over characters from 'Homeland' show up in it.

'Homeland' has often felt a bizarre, contorted and jarring beast, its main attraction simultaneously its main drawback. They were capable of delivering humdinger plot twists, curves you couldn't see coming but once they'd arrived made total sense, which made it all the more infuriating when they started making stuff up as they went along. Thankfully this most recent series been able to supply surprises while (mostly) staying the right side of credulity.

However, it continues to exemplify a general trend so perfectly its almost deserving of praise for doing it. It's now become commonplace to describe a drama as a stupid person's idea of what smart is. Whereas 'Homeland' often feels like a moral simpleton's idea of what morally complex is. It's well known that American conservative guru Leo Strauss was a fan of the TV Western 'Gunsmoke', feeling its simplistic certainties gave audiences the illusions necessary for society to function. Whereas today we want to be flattered at the same time as we're patronised. The message of 'Homeland' more or less reduces to “life gets complicated. You must know that, watching a smart show like this. But don't worry too much because ultimately we're always right.”

A classic moment is the scene where Haqqani holds Fara hostage. Given what he wants, he stabs her anyway. There's no rhyme or reason for him to do this, other than to make him so 'black' that however 'grey' the good guys get they won't be closing in on him.

And even though the ending was clearly intended to be not just feel-bad but compromising, in that watching it you realise you can't conceive of a better outcome, all the above still applies. Adal's machiavellian last-minute deal with Haqqani fits too easily with everything else to be truly jarring. The theme of the series is that some dirty jobs just need doing, so they're essentially unquittable even as they screw up those stuck with carrying them out. The shit sticks and then stays stuck. Adal's deal just shifts this from the operational to the strategic level. The point about dealing with devils is that eventually you have to make a deal with one. 

And Adal's deal must be seen in the context of Lockhart's parallel but opposite journey, where events knock the once-adversary down to everyone else's level. (To the point where he can sit drinking whisky at a table with Carrie and Quinn.) The angels may get compromised by association with the devils. But angels they stay.


BABYLON


A police-based version of the political satire 'The Thick of It' with added dramatic moments... not something that initially strikes you as a bright idea. Yet overall it worked surprisingly well. If the dialogue spats didn't quite throw up 'Thick Of It' sparks they could be memorable enough, without detracting from the more dramatic parts.

Certainly, the series was well timed. In recent years the police have frequently been propelled into the headlines through frictions between themselves and the political class, assailed as they are with cutbacks on the one side and privatisation on the other. Issues such as Plebgate played out against this disharmonious background.

Now you might not expect a popular TV show to ask penetrating questions about the police, and their precise role in class society. And indeed it doesn't. Why are they being cut now? Because the political class calculate their enemies have now been knocked back enough that they can start to scrimp on attack dogs. This puts the police in the same defensive position as other groups of workers, the ones who they once earned their overtime by attacking. The irony of this isn't something thats gone into. The series culminates in what's effectively a police strike. In other words a police strike is essentially dreamed up for dramatic purposes, while an actual series of strikes in the Fire Service rarely hit the headlines. At the same time, however, its interesting that a popular drama simply takes it as axiomatic that police privatisation is a bad idea.

The depiction of the riot seems similarly indicative of the contemporary groupthink. Its a protest about the police shooting of a black youth, which we see happening and know to have occurred under dodgy circumstances (as the real riots were a response to the killing of Mark Duggan). But its simultaneously an opportunistic response to the effective police strike. The ragbag array of causes attached to the riot becomes an opportunity for humour (with the sardonic comment “they haven't elected a head rioter yet” to be negotiated with), a literalisation of the widely used term 'rentamob'.

Perhaps we're better of looking at what it does. While it isn't much like 'The Wire' it performs a similar structural device of presenting the institution as seen through several levels. (Effectively high command, the Armed Response Unit and the Territorial Support Group. Even if the last group seem to become regular cops whenever the plot requires.) And it keeps these levels quite rigidly separate. While individuals might cross them from time to time, this is clearly going to be something momentary. We get more of a sense of what such an institution is, through this effective triangulation of crossfire.

Yet despite this structure and the ensuing ensemble cast, as the sole outsider fledgeling Director of Communications Liz Garvey (played by Brit Marling) becomes the protagonist by default. Which would make her the equivalent of Thick of It's' Malcolm Tucker. Which raises an important distinction. Tucker's clearly presented as the star of the show, and indeed its hard not to nurse a secret admiration for the Machiavellian bastard. Garvey's role is more ambiguous. The pilot episode (broadcast back in February) seemed built around her resolute adherence to her “flag” of openness despite all the heavy buffeting it receives. (All on her first day, even.) At times she's presented as the police's conscience, refusing to countenance slandering the name of a black lad shot by the ARU. And she's given an adversary, in the shape of the cynical, gum-chewing Finn (played by Bertie Carvel) who sees his job in terms of the more traditional burial of bad news. And, if he can manage it, hit'n'runs on rivals who've strayed onto his career path.

Yet at other points it becomes obvious her crusading zeal is really to nothing more than policing as PR, an inability to distinguish between openness and photo-ops. Rather than releasing edited footage she'd rather edit the reality before the footage is taken, and at points this fixation with Twitter streams has operationally disastrous consequences. It's at its clearest in her speech about taking down the Death Star of current practise to replace it with a “perspex Death Star, a better Death Star”. Yet not only does she seem oblivious to any of this, the series never quite gears itself up into taking her on about any of it. She's less the anti-hero of Tucker and more the hero by default seenin contemporary films such as 'The Social Network'. The underlying message seems – she may not be right, but at least she's contemporary. Which is sort of the same thing, isn't it?


GOTHAM


Like 'Babylon', 'Gotham' seems to have started from the most peculiar of scenarios – let's have the Batman universe without Batman in it. (Perhaps they're also planning 'Ma and Pa Kent – The Early Years' and 'The Rough, Tough Boyhood of Starro the Conqueror'.)

Having got rid of Batman they immediately replace him - with the young Gordon (played by Ben McKenzie), even down to the gravelly monotone voice as a signifier for the relentlessness of justice. The idea seems to be to up the stakes by giving us the supervillains (and the crooks often seem on the cusp of supervillainry), with only the very human Gordon to go against them.

To do this it has to take on a rather ludicrous conceit, that Gotham's in a kind of dark age interregnum between his parents being killed and Bruce growing up into Batman. (The credit sequence contains the quote “there's a war coming, a terrible war. There will be rivers of blood in the streets.”) Because of course the only thing that can make the world better is the well-meaning super-rich. It not only rests on the most reactionary assumption of the comics (that Batman's a kind of super-philanthropist, that if he wasn't wealthy enough to have all those Bat-gizmos crime would overrun us) with the worst 'innovation' of the films. (That the Waynes can't be killed by a common criminal leading Bruce to declare war on crime, there has to be something special about that criminal making the whole thing into one journey of personal redemption and all the rest of it.)

Which means it keeps the movies' fixation with origins, as if that's what the superhero is all about. Imagine making a film about the Apollo mission and keeping cutting back to the astronaut's training, like all the stuff about landing on the moon is just after the fact. There's less emphasis on Batman's own origin, which is (at least so far) kept incipient. They're more Gotham's and his future adversaries. The results sometimes feel like a set of Just So stories, how the Penguin got his waddling walk and so on.

But much like 'Babylon' it takes this unpromising premise and works it. Batman is after all merely the straight man of his world, there so the more colourful criminals have someone to play off against. Perhaps more than any other superhero, Batman is his rogue's gallery. And replacing one straight man with another, even as cliched a character as Gordon, doesn't really lose us much.

So if all hangs on the rogue's gallery, the good news is that this is great! The star of the show isn't the tedious Gordon, but Robin Lord Taylor's deliciously creepy Penguin, duplicitously fawning and backstabbing his way through and up the criminal underworld. The Penguin is a character often seen as inhabiting the cartoony world of the Sixties TV show, now banished by the shadow of the all-growed-up-now Dark Knight. But here he's already managed to create two cliff-hangers merely by showing up. And as befits the title Gotham itself becomes a character in the show, an (as the name might suggest) gothic temple to sin like something out of Brecht and Weill.

The main weakness is the insistence on each episode having its own storyline. While everyone's attention is on the ongoing criminal war, these feel not only inferior and derivative but often half-hearted. They don't seem likely to draw in the casual viewers they're presumably intended for. 'Gotham' is a long-haul novel-structure show, not especially adept at disguising itself as weekly TV.


MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.


In its first series, this often felt like an inferior warm-up for the Marvel Universe films. It's essentially a cop buddy show with science fictional bolt-ons. Which is, you know, fine. Except that scenario places a sitcom-like emphasis on the rapport between the lead actors, and I wasn't at all sure there was one. Coulson (played by Clark Gregg) worked in the 'Iron Man' and 'Avengers' films precisely because everybody expected the suit to be a straight man rather than a character (hence Stark's incredulous line “I thought his first name was Agent”), so even a little went a long way. Taking him out of that context felt as if you were to take Niles out of 'Frasier'. Lose the context and you lose the environment, and with it the character's purpose.

Chloe Bennett (playing Sky) looked a classic case of having been hired for her pretty face rather than any acting ability, while Fitz and Simmons were an American's rather annoying idea of what twee British people are like. Take away all the heroes, take away Nick Fury, and what were you left with was a daft acronym and a supporting cast hanging around without a lead?

But the new characters work better. It seems unlikely anybody would fail to guess where Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) and Bobbi Morse's (Adrianne Palicki) will-they-won't-they act would end up, but it was more about the journey than the destination. Also, the plotlines have by now gained their own traction, rather than relying on hand-me-downs from the films. It's like a Shield universe, rather than the mere reflection of a Marvel universe, has had time to coalesce. The way the alien markings led to the underground city did feel like a gradually unfolding mystery, rather than one stock secret getting lined up behind another.

There remains, alas, Marvel's proprietary habit of sticking the name Marvel in front every other Marvel word which pretty quickly gets Marvelling annoying, and mostly reminds me of that 'Simpsons' episode where Bart went around writing “property of Bart Simpson” everywhere. (The word 'Marvel' should probably be in that sentence a couple more Marvel times.)


In other news... Here in the Old World, we still know how to do a ghost story. 'Hinterland' was essentially a detective story presented as a ghost story, while 'Remember Me' was unashamedly the full phantoms-in-the-attic caboodle. They both work through evoking such a strong sense of locale, in North Wales and Yorkshire respectively. This lends proceedings a double virtue, locating the tale in our world while providing a liminal space, where the incursion of the supernatural seems only a matter of time. Like a lightning rod for the spectral.

Mostly, though, I just watch documentaries on BBC4. I suppose I could write about those. It would mostly consist of me saying things like “it was all about an ancient Andean civilsation I'd not heard of before. I learnt lots of new and interesting things. Forgotten them all now, though. But maybe they'll repeat it.”

Sunday, 21 December 2014

GOBLIN/ GODFLESH/ THE EX/ EMPTYSET AV (GIG-GOING ADVENTURES)

GOBLIN PERFORM 'SUSPIRIA'
St. Bartholomew's Church, Brighton, Sat Dec 6th


Disclaimer!Dario Argento's 1977 shocker 'Suspiria' may be genuinely deranged but its also literally depraved. It follows the standard slasher film conventions, which includes repeated scenes of semi-dressed women getting penetrated by knives and meeting other grisly deaths. If given this description you're not interested in being told such a film has other merits, or want to know about its soundtrack, please skip this section now.

If after Pere Ubu's 'Man With the X-Ray Eyes' I'd rushed to proclaim underscores as the way to create a film soundtrack, what should come along a couple of weeks later but a classic example of an overscore?

But then a conventional score would never have worked for a film such as 'Suspiria'. There's not so much a subtext that needs drawing out. Just like the supernatural events that take over the characters' lives, everything pretty much explodes over the surface of the film. Argento realised that the horror of horror films comes from the triumph of the irrational, and simply went with that. Mysteries stay unexplained, plot threads are dropped with impunity - your mind would break before it made any sense of this. 

Instead it lives in the mise-en-scene, the lurid colours and Art Nouveau flourishes of the Dance Academy (which must count as one of the main characters in its own right), and in the succession of dramatic set-piece events. Everything becomes suffused in the atmosphere of a lurid, surrealist dream. And it lives in the soundtrack which, rather than illustrating the film, was composed before shooting began. And music, inherently irrational in the way it runs a short-circuit to your brain, is vital in achieving this effect.


Watching sections of it performed during Goblin's solo gig earlier this year, I wrote “it just keeps going, permeating the whole film – marinading in its mood”. Yet, watching the whole thing through, rather than listening to live highlights or the soundtrack album you realise that however over-the-top it sounds its actually quite a skilled accomplishment. For an overscore, there's a whole lot of underscore to it – semi-subliminal embellishment of the events. And the grand themes have a habit of suddenly cutting straight out, leaving us hanging. The band are clearly aware how loud silence can sound.

And while its famous for being a rock score, repeating phrases and riffs until insanity takes hold, it uses quite a few classical devices. The main theme recurs again and again but in different variants, like motifs in a symphony. The psychological effect is of relentlessness, but without the ear ever getting the chance to become used to what its hearing.

Perhaps the most bizarre and effective thing about the soundtrack is that it sounds simultaneously so fitting for the film and like some alien force that is infecting it – like the sinister witch lurking at the heart of the Dance Academy orchestrating the deaths. The celebrated main theme, with those malevolently chanted vocals like a twisted lullaby, simultaneously sinister and seductive, fits superbly with Argento's directoral motifs – such as filming scenes from an elevated perspective, as if under the spying eye of evil spirits.

The 'rock' nature of the soundtrack is similarly bizarre and disruptive in the way it works. The film is at root a supernaturalised analogy for the generation gap – an ode to getting out of school and going your own way. The witch at the heart of it all, Helena Markos, is not just ancient but supposed to be dead - she has prolonged her life by supernatural means. (Whether she is sustained by the frequent blood sacrifices of the young, like Countess Dracula, is one of the many things which remain unexplained.) The heroine Suzy (played by Jessica Harper) can't trust anyone much over thirty and only seems to gain safe haven outside of the Academy - in more modern settings, such as the glass-and-steel citadel of the conference centre. The Academy often seems designed around infantalising it's young adult charges. (Argento designed the sets so, for example, door handles were raised to the height they would normally be for children.)

But the rock soundtrack, which would have sounded so modern to a contemporary audience at a time when they were only starting to move from classical instrumentation, isn't the stereotypical sound of youth or freedom. It very much belongs with the Dance Academy, like an aural iteration of the witch's spells. While, in a break with one of the more fundamental rules of soundtracks, Suzy isn't given her own theme. If anything it is playing with the notion more commonly held by older generations, that rock is the “devil's music”.

I also wrote after last time “the best way to experience their music is still through watching those Argento films”. And I was right. Cutting out the proggier solo-band stuff, and showing their music against the film it was always meant to accompany, this was Goblin in their element. And the grandeur of St. Barts church made for the perfect venue. “I hope God forgives us”, front-man Claudio Simonetti commented at the end. I reckon he will.

From their earlier performance in Islington:



GODFLESH
The Haunt, Brighton, Tues 9th Dec


After an eight-year break, it would almost be tempting to talk about Godflesh being resurrected. I loved the legendary Eighties noise band enough to name one of my old comic strips after them. (Though if anyone else remembers that I'll be astonished.) And now they're not just back but back the way they were – the classic two-man line-up of guitarist Justin Broadrick and bassist GC Green.

Though just looking at the musicians on stage perhaps overlooks the key ingredient to their distinctive sound. By then many bands employed a drum machine, but tended to use it as a click track. After all, if the drums are important then you invest in a real drummer, right? Whereas Godflesh took the drum machine and utilised it. At times it became the dominant instrument, providing an onslaught of inhumanly pounding beats, relentless as rows of space invaders, with guitar and bass throwing up dissonances.

It was a sound which gave the band the best of both worlds – the frenzied energy of punk combined with the pulverising force of metal. Plus, in an echo of something I once said about Wolf Eyes, the way you couldn't understand a word of those screamed or guttural vocals just added to the sense they were speaking to you. They seemed to tap into some feeling beyond words, something purely existential – the glossolalia of angst. (I manage to make out precisely three words all night long - “towers of emptiness.”)

As ever its more evocative to let the music do the talking, stirring moods and conjuring up images in your mind. Wikipedia tags the band with the terms 'industrial metal', 'experimental metal' and post-metal'. And taking that first suggestion it's music which could be taken to follow the industrial template – a response to the urban environment, to tower blocks, traffic jams and tasting smog for air. As Dom Lawson said in the Guardian of their sound: “monochrome riffs and dehumanised drums collide, conjuring a disorientating fog of urban desperation and fury… a cracked prism of post-Thatcher social alienation.”

But it also morphs readily into visions of some science fiction apocalypse. Early albums tended to credit the drums to the 'Terminator'-like tag “machines”. Bu they're less man vs. machine wars and more the cyborg-as-inner-conflict of 'Tetsuo' - man becoming machine even as he fights it, and vice versa. But the real appeal is the way one slips so easily into the other, as if the dystopian future is already here and just getting warmed up. (Think of that last 'Terminator' film taking place almost entirely inside some future apocalypse. What made it more epic also made it more removed, less involving. What's powerful is the sense of an elision between the two.)

In some ways they're the Black Flag of metal, and not just through being influential. There's the same sense of stripping down beyond the point a sane mind would stop, reducing music to a brutal and brutalising force. But there's the equal yet contradictory sense that it's all a brilliant art project, devised by some very smart people indeed. The slide show that accompanies the gig includes raging flames and venomous snakes, but also such arty fayre as Church carvings and details from Bosch paintings.

There's that wish fulfilment conceit common in comics, where the nerdy kid gains super powers and no-one can pick on him any more. With Godflesh there's the sense that their outsiderness is their superpower, the quality that enables them to unleash such sonic blasts, that everything that's pushing down on them is made into their weapon back against it. Ultimately, for all it's savagery, there's something not nihilistic but liberating about their music. It's like facing off the world and winning.

They only play for about an hour, which might seem on the short side. But the experience is of such an intensity you're not really sure if you could have taken much more. As it ends someone sticks on a Christmas jingle single, so we exit to the echoes of blistering beats and service-encounter session singers wishing us a merry festive season.

They really are just as good now as they were back in the day.

Their classic 'Streetcleaner' from Maryland...


THE EX
Sticky Mike's Frog Bar, Brighton, Wed 10th Dec


“I have satellite maps of near destinations
So why take a risk when you can take a vacation?”

Much like Swans, I've already written about Dutch post-punkers the Ex not once but twice (actually sort of three times) so will only add stuff here which I haven't said before.

One cool thing about this gig, a warm-up for a two-night residency in London's Cafe Oto, was that it featured such a wealth of support acts it almost became a mini-festival. These included (and I may well have missed something)...

  • A Dutch singer-songwriter who gave us precisely one song in English
  • Afework Nigussie, a traditional Ethiopian musician playing what appeared to be a bedpost with a single string attached (and later joined the band for a few numbers)
  • Terrie from the Ex playing freeform impro guitar (which alas only really got good towards the end)
  • Trash Kit, a Slits-style girl group playing offbeat in about every available sense of the word. When I say girl group they looked like their collective ages might have got them served at the bar. The singer dedicates one song to her mum, who turns out to be in the audience.

As befits a band not knowing for resting on their laurels, the Ex provide several new tracks which would bode well for the future. Katherina's skittering drumming provided a fine contrasts to Godflesh's machine beats a few nights before, in that it couldn't sound any more human. While the guitars are taunt and sharp, she provides rolling polyrhthms which, as I've said before rarely march in the lockstep of punk orthodoxy.”

Gigs, even good gigs, fall too easily into a formula. While this was a night which felt full of of possibility. The main set ended with a version of ‘That’s Not A Virus’ which reached such an intensity, de Boers spitting doggerel number codes like they were the most important information ever imparted, that I expected cracks to start appearing in the walls and ceiling and Sticky Mike's Frog Bar to be no more. After which the band were clapped back on for no less than three encores.

The Ex are neither stuck in some fundamentalist punk furrow, struggling to retain the way everything sounded in 1979, nor have they bought into music biz shenanigans. They simply play the music it occurs to them to play. They're stuck to their roots, but they've also grown from them. If they didn't exist we'd probably have to make them up.

'Four Billion Tulip Bulbs',a subject close to every Dutch person's heart, from Copenhagen...


EMPTYSET A/V
Dome Studio Theatre, Brighton, Sat 13th Dec


Emptyset, it says here, “examine the physical properties of sound through electromagnetism, architecture and process-based image-making in a live event that encompasses performance, installation work and audio-visuals.”
People often perceive electronica as a remote, austere and and cerebral affair. But Emptyset are a long way from Morton Subotnik's 'music of the spheres', their spectral sounds are actually quite rooted in the earth. I once commented how psychedelia “worked best when stuffed inside actual songs. It's the way it then fights to get out, makes the song strange, misshapen and unpredictable. Like one of those giant bubbles which stop being perfectly round but undulate weirdly and throw up loads of odd reflections.”
And Emptyset do a similar thing with the rhythms of dance music. As the visuals play with geometric shapes and with distortions, so their music plays with the even-ness of beats. And strange, distorted beats are still beats, dance music from Mars is still dance music. There were sections the audience could easily have danced to, were we not so chinstrokey. And in fact I read later they “have backgrounds within Bristol's club music scene.”

The A/V in their name and in their performance suggests the appeal of synaesthesia. See a live band and you may enjoy the interplay between, say, the bassist and the drummer. But when that jumps across media barriers it becomes environmental. It was reminiscent less of other gigs that I've been to than Lis Rhodes' Tate installation 'Light Music'. At times the bass notes rumbled so low they made the floor vibrate and tickle my feet.

Both electronica and dance music become more immersive the longer they continue, and the same was true here. Not because things developed. Though they performed one long piece, it was pretty much neatly divided into sections. But because its immersive. You settle into it like a bath.

From Paris:


Coming soon! Short of Led Zeppelin staging a surprise reunion on the seafront on Xmas Day, no more gig-going adventures for a little while. Still, it's been a good year for it...