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Saturday, 21 May 2022

‘UNCHAIN ME’ BY DREAMTHINKSPEAK

Pavilion Estate, part of the Brighton Festival


”There are many groups like this one, all over the country, all over the world, just waiting for the moment of transformation”

TRIPLE LOCK PLOT SPOILERS! Normally I stick up a plot spoiler notice just in case anyone might care. This time, spoil means spoil! If you’re going to see this show, which is on till 12th June, you really don’t want to read this review first!

Anyone else old enough to remember the old ’End of Part One’ sketch where the cinema patrons end up getting seats within the film itself? The performances of DreamThinkSpeak, which in their own words “interweave life performance with film and instillations to create extraordinary journeys” are something similar.

Rather than setting up fixed areas for stage and audience you wander round an environment, coming across actors and interacting with them, as if you’ve been dipped in their world. After ’Before I Sleep’ and ‘The Rest Is Silence’, this the third of their Festival performances I’ve seen.

The Pavilion estate (for non-locals, a large area in central Brighton) is presented as a town in itself, under the dominion of the Governess. But steps are afoot to remove her, with a group of revolutionary cells led by her own brother Lucas. Buying a ticket is enough to get you mixed up in all this.

The politics, it has to be be said, were typical of this type of thing. The system is a semi-feudal affair, focused on the Aunt Sally figure of the Governess, not a social and economic relation which requires changing. (Though the olde-worlde look of the Pavilion estate may have been a factor here.) Revolutionaries are well-meaning middle-class types, cops hard-working proles. And those revolutionaries are divided into big-hearted idealists and violent fanatics. They first denounce the Governess’ dinner debate as a farce, but then participate in it. In fact, there’s too much formal debating in general. Their plan seems to be to tell her she’s not wanted, at which point she’ll be obliged to leave. Good luck with that…

However, I’m not sure how much that matters. Because it wasn’t really what the thing was about. Playing up the immersive nature of the drama, the actors don’t broadly soliloquise but directly address us, look us in the eye. At various points, we’re appealed to by both cops and revolutionaries. And we’ve no notion who we can trust, or whose plans are even credible. So, bewildered, we follow the guides around like human baggage hoping some resolution is reached.

Which, pretty much, is the state we live our lives in. But, by standing so near the spotlight, we start to feel singed by it. And I’d have to say I know this feeling! You turn to radical political groups because you want to get unchained, but before you know it you’re tied in knots.

I kept thinking how much this miasma of mistrust felt like descriptions of pre-revolutionary Russia. Forgetting that the Festival programme had already confirmed this was based on Dostoyevsky’s ’The Possessed’, which is about… as you may have guessed… pre-revolutionary Russia. In its own words, “plunging [us] into the feverish and hallucinatory world of Dostoyevsky’s vision.” This isn’t agitprop, but absurdist tragi-comedy for us to get ourselves mired in.

And then there’s technology. I’ve not read Dostoyevsky’s book, but assume characters in it don’t lug tablets around, which dispense clues and instructions of doubtful provenance. And of course modern activist culture does organise on-line, for both better and worse, the smartphone replacing the Little Red Book.

The show starts several days early, when you’re sent an email containing a weblink to Lucas speechifying. Then ends with a room of screens, each devoted to a character (both activist and cop), all talking at once. Which becomes a kind of summation of the experience. Remember the William Burroughs phrase, “Ain’t nothing left here now but the recordings”? (And modern life as an indecipherable babble seems a theme of the company.)

Everyone has to have a kind of origin story which led to them getting involved in the underground. Its pretty much the first thing we’re told. This is something commonly done when activist culture gets represented in the media, as a kind of instant motive, despite it not being at all accurate of that world. But then something smarter is done with this…

One of the things you run past is a Jam exhibition currently on at the Pavilion. And it’s hard not to think of those famous lines: “What a catalyst you turned out to be, Loaded the guns then ran off home for your tea”. They prove apt, when Lucas takes the opportunity to bump off his dominating big sister. All those grand, fine-sounding political speeches, and it had been a simple case of sibling rivalry all along.

Crucially his motives are not despotic, to seize control from her, but narrow and entirely personalised. You could call them petty, insofar as that term could be applied to murder. On accomplishing this he immediately disappears from the narrative, his real work done.

Though, as you’re arbitrarily assigned different guides on arrival, your perspective might change accordingly. Ours was Stela Maris, presented as the idealistic heart of the group, who begs troubled head Lucas not to shoot. (When you hear them clashing, off-stage but audible, it’s not unlike being a child and hearing your parents argue.) But Lucas was guide to his own group, who might well have seen in him a more tragic figure, playing out a kind of Greek tragedy in which the rest of us were more incidental.

Similarly, while my group did some very English squirming and eye-averting when asked by both sides to join up, I wondered if others might become more engaged. Arifa Akbar’s Guardian review suggests her group did. While a review in GScene commented more sourly: “We listen to radicalised young people talk of lost childhoods and a system which crushes them, we look around and admire the baroque and rococo back rooms we find ourselves in. We stay silent.”

All of which is to the good. However…

The show is not short of incident, sometimes quite dramatically so. But incident is not necessarily the same thing as narrative. And the hectic rushing from one supposedly ‘safe’ place to another, then again, did feel at times like incident was trying to take the place of narrative.

And the use of technology did seem a little half-hearted. It mostly seemed additional, the tablets we were asked to carry just underlining things we were already seeing or being told by our guide. Had someone switched theirs off at the start, there’s little they’d have missed. Dramatically, there should have been more times when the tablets were guiding us, demanding our trust.

I wondered if this was out of concern that some more technofeared attendees might fail to follow along. But a suggestion at the initial briefing that we’d need to work together, moving as a group, might have allayed that. Perhaps a more extended period at the start, where the tablets try to guide you to your guide, with plans getting stymied at the last minute.

Overall… well, it’s a hard thing to get a grip on. If it often feels like a frustrating experience, that we pass through spaces without really engaging with anything – well, that’s kind of the point. It is, by a strict definition of the term, Absurdist. Things make no sense, then they’re over, and it’s up to you to figure out how you’re going to deal with that. And that conflicts by definition with the standard dramatic needs, for closure and all of that. If you come away feeling dissatisfied and uninvolved, that’s kind of the point. What might feel like basic audience needs can just be at odds with the event.

But then again, other things have been Absurdist without this seeming so much of a problem. While it has much to commend it, you feel like it’s not *quite* there yet, it needs a little more road testing and fine-tuning. It couldn’t be claimed it equals their previous two festival offerings.

And finally (as they say on the news)… if this was more absurdist tragicomedy than political drama, there was still one clue which side the company might fall on. In the room of screens, both activists and cops supply a personal anecdote of how they came to be involved. And each activist has their own story while, like a troll farm, the cop tales are all identical…

Saturday, 14 May 2022

GIGSPANNER BIG BAND/ RIOT ENSEMBLE (GIG-GOING ADVENTURES)

THE GIGSPANNER BIG BAND 
Kings Place, London, Fri 5th May


Put together two existing folk outfits, the trio Gigspanner with the duo Edgelarks, and you come away with the Big Band. Ex-Steeleye Span member Peter Knight is their founder. But their chief asset is the voice of Hannah Martin.

It’s unassuming, at times barely pitched above the level of the instruments, but has something mesmerising to it. It feels like its being sung straight at you, like a child sung a lullabye, rather than addressed to the room. It is, in short, the ideal voice for British folk. Knight sings numbers too, in fact two other members get a go, and none do badly. But Martin’s is the voice.

They also, at times, have a harmonica. Which drives the tracks its on, as much as it worked on Sixties beat numbers. A feeling perhaps accentuated by their having a bongo player rather than a full drummer. It feels like the track’s being propelled from the front, not pushed along form behind, and so is more spirited. True, this is possibly not the most authentic folk instrument. But then most things we think of as ‘authentic’ folk actually aren’t.

While their chief drawback is a tendency to muso-ness. My general attitude to solos is that they’re okay for consenting adults, but should really be done within the privacy of the home. Here, they’re relay soloing by the third number. And it never seems a good sign when the audience applaud at the end of a solo, as if tacitly agreeing that it’s been inserted into a track rather than rising out of it. By the time we’ve had a… yes, really… a bongo solo, it does feel like the path of wisdom has been abandoned for the road to excess.

And these two things, the folky voice and the endless soloing, seem entirely at odds with one another. Perhaps best demonstrated when the opening lyrics “I’ll tell you a story and it won’t take long” did indeed turn out to take long. Leaving me feeling like this was a gig constantly flipping between heads and tails.

The opening number, ’Awake, Awake’. Though, if Kings Place looks to have been redecorated, this is not from the gig…


RIOT ENSEMBLE
All Saints Church, Hove, Wed 11th May
(Part of the Brighton Festival)


Contemporary composers, I continue to dabble, though I do sometimes feel I’m just looking for the soft centres to suck. I find this music runs the whole range from enthralling to endurance test, with little to tell you which you’re getting until you’re actually getting it.

This programme was a sampler of six short pieces. (Down from the original seven, after one was found on closer inspection to not be short enough.) Which in one way is handy. If it’s just sandpaper for the ears, at least it won’t be rubbing against them for too long. But on the other hand sometimes you need to get thoroughly soaked in a piece before it starts to make sense to you.

It was Iannis Xenakis’ name which most attracted me… okay then, his was the only name I’d previously heard of! I had found myself enjoying his work before. I was to find out, however, that his piece (‘Paille In the Wind’) was shortest of all, less than five minutes.

A sonorous cello was interspersed with a rather harsh piano, plonking notes like heavy droplets of rain, with the two never playing at the same time. The programme noted that Iannis the Greek “is not known as a miniaturist”, but more for “granite monoliths”. And I’m not sure he’s done one now, as it seemed to me to stop without really starting. (The programme also spoke as if parallels between the instruments would reveal themselves, while my cloth ears only found distinctions.)

When you hear Kaija Sarriaho composed ’Light And Matter’ after watching the play of light across the park from her apartment window, into might sound more like something from the Romantic era than the granite monoliths of the Contemporary world. And low and behold it did seem like an interchange between the two. Never too syurpy, never too austere, it proved a good place to hang out.

Peter Copley ’Scherzos And Arias’, at about twenty minutes, was the monolith of the night. But to me it occupied the same interchange, lifted up by some lively clarinet. In short, it was the two ‘inbetweenish’ works who served up porridge just right form me.

So not a high hit rate for me. But the engaging nature of the Riot Ensemble was refreshing, not at all serious and austere, even offering to meet everyone down the pub after!

Saturday, 7 May 2022

‘CARRIE’

(More of the series ‘Mutants Are Our Future’. With PLOT SPOILERS, albeit for a 1976 film.)



Does ’Carrie’ (Brian de Palma, 1976) belong in a series about mutants, alongside the X-Men and Tomorrow People? If not commonly seen in their company, that’s because this came out under the heading of a horror film. Rather than mind powers being evolutionary and futuristic, here the suggestion is they’re inherited, a rare witch gene, as in ’The Shining’. What’s more the film needs this, to be based around inheritance and lineage. If her power were to come from, say, a green-glowing meteorite she found it wouldn’t be a trivial modification - everything would be changed.

But if we accept that the root of the thing is puberty manifested as powers, this should be at the head of the queue. As Carrie White’s first period comes in the film’s second scene, we can’t definitely say she didn’t have her powers before. Yet movie logic assumes events are causal. And her first manifestation is almost immediate - she makes a light bulb smash.

A repressed and repressive mother has left her entirely unprepared for this moment. So, just like someone gaining mutant powers, she simply doesn’t know what’s happening and freaks out. She says later she thought she was dying, and in a sense one Carrie does die and gets replaced by another. Carrie White becomes Carrie Red. They’re even separated out into two people on the poster (up top).

(Though we may have happy happenstance to thank for this. The original opening scene, where Carrie’s powers manifested as a child, was shot but then abandoned for technical reasons. And there’s an added reason why we’re better off without it. With the narrative structure we have, we wonder alongside her teachers how a girl of sixteen could be completely ignorant of menstruation. Then run into the mother-sized answer shortly after.)


The scene works, of course, because all the other girls do know what’s happening to her. As we do in the audience. And audience awareness in horror films is always an interesting subject. They often accept we know the tropes and rely on timing their reveal, feigning shocks and throwing jump scares at us like a ghost train ride. With ’Carrie’, at the very least from her outburst in the Principal’s office, we’re let in on what’s going to be happening. Even if you went in not knowing the premise, you’d have guessed by then. But significantly, there’s not a moment where Carrie herself becomes aware. Figuratively, and for quite a long stretch literally, we’re aware there’s a bucket of blood up on a ledge that’s about to tip.

Though this is double-edged. There’s a brief scene which tellingly shows White being the last name in the register, a sign of her place in the pecking order. In such moments our sympathies naturally go to our protagonist. She’s warm-hearted and smart. When her powers manifest she sensibly checks books out of the school library, which will help explain them.

But even as we witness the strangeness of her upbringing, we do more than that - we identify with her. The film may be able to get away with this because the rough-house world of schooling leaves us all convinced that we were our school’s Carrie, the weird outsider kid no-one really liked.

For that reason, while the film suggests others have these powers, Carrie’s the only one we actually see. So the social power of telepathy, such a mainstay of ’The Tomorrow People’, doesn’t show up here. Carrie’s telekinetic. Her powers relate to things, not people.

…which takes us to another often overlooked feature. While it’s ostensibly a horror film (marketed for those with “a taste for terror”) for long stretches it works as an effective High School drama. While Horror films can contain such scenes they’re normally perfunctory, we instinctively understand they’re only there as set-up prior to the chop-up. A ‘normative’ has to be established just so the jump-scares have somewhere to burst into.

Whereas you could be shown whole scenes and think this was something like ‘American Graffiti’. There’s frequent moments of diegetic music, where characters listen to what’s on the radio, and a couple where the background sound just comes from a TV. Which we subliminally associate with ‘real world’. (The string of poorly received attempts at re-makes is probably a testament to how many different and even contradictory elements the film has to juggle.)

One effect of this is that when the mother starts ranting about devils and demons, in a more straightforward horror film we might associate her with the harbinger role, clueing us in what’s a-coming. Here we know straight away she’s deluded.

But another, more important effect comes in the Prom scene. While rightly recognised as a bravura sequence, the most important part of it may be overlooked. We know that bucket of blood is up there on the ledge. But right up to it being tipped, we need to invest in the moment. We need to believe that we’re watching the happy ending to a quite different film, a Cinderella ending where Carrie falls in love and becomes the Prom Queen. Our special power as an audience, knowing what’s coming, was earlier being fed. Now it’s the grain we’re being run against. And the scene being so well played, even before the part everyone remembers, sets us up for this.


Inevitably we come to the famous retribution section. The set-up to this is the step-by-step elimination of direct connection between sound and vision. First we hear only the soundtrack, characters mouthing but their words going unheard. Then only the bucket swinging on the rope. We still see people mouthing. But Carrie’s thinking only about the bucket. Then the laughter starts. We can see most people in the crowd are shocked, not amused. But Carrie can only hear the laughter. Not coming from them, we realise. A projection of her own head.

Next the split screen. This has a long history in cinema, though it was normally used to convey parallel events such as telephone calls. (Though ’Village of the Damned’, 1960, uses it in a similar way to this.) But its effectiveness here is its being restricted to just this scene. I quite vividly remember the moment it first appeared on my first viewing.

And in it’s way it’s as diegetic as the sound. Like a forerunner to the later use of bullet time, with Neo and Quicksilver, it’s a visual correlative of Carrie’s powers. The bucket of blood can only be tipped by an elaborate rope system, lingered over by the means of one character discovering it and tracing it back, in other words a pan shot. While Carrie shuts doors the other side of the room just by thinking about it, a split screen.

But the really horrific thing isn’t what she does, it’s that it’s Carrie who does it. The sweet, innocent lass who we’ve so identified with up to now. Sissy Spacek’s performance underlines this, switching from hopeful girl to vengeful monster, yielding no expression either from her face or rigidly held body, speaking not one word to anyone. Did Carrie White cry when you taunted her? Meet Carrie Red.


We’re all used to the trope of the child being picked on by the school bully, then at the vital moment her powers manifesting to save her. We are, truth be told, pretty bored of that scene by now. ’Carrie’, in its way, stretches that scene out to film length. But with two key differences. Firstly, she doesn’t act in self-defence but in retribution. And when she does, everyone gets it. Even those who took no part in her persecution, even those who looked out for her. Our sympathetic heroine turns mass murderer.

And after all, bullied and demeaned your whole life, which would you be more likely to do? Decide in that moment to don a colourful costume the better to help humankind, or get your own back on the bastards? But crucially our identification with Carrie doesn’t break at that point. We identify with her until it’s too late to bail out. ’Carrie’ essentially rebukes the ’Tomorrow People’ notion of powers advancing in parallel step to goodness. Its message is “with great power comes great bloodshed.” Sometimes it takes horror to tell us the truth.

And this unleashing of her powers seems intrinsic. Carrie the child was virtually the heroine of a girl’s comic, virtuously enduring her life’s travails. But not the post-pubescent Carrie. Every previous iteration of her powers comes about through anger. There’s no moment where she experiments with them or uses them to perform helpful tasks. Just as it’s a power brought on by puberty, it’s triggered by rage.

And this is the theme of the film. When Chris gets punished by Miss Collins for taunting Carrie in the shower, literally being slapped down, she resolves to get revenge. Which Carrie follows with her own revenge. It’s a perpetual cycle of blame and punishment.

Some see this as a “women’s picture”, or even attempt to claim it as feminist. Which would seem unlikely for a de Palma film, even if there wasn’t that paedoish lingering look round the girls’ changing rooms early on. (Yes the actors are all older than the girls they play. Still creepy.) True it’s woman-centred. But it’s more reverse Bechdel, where the male characters (such as they are) act only at the behest of women. And so, by marginalising them, the film marginalises patriarchy. Which only really rears its head in the mother’s crazed babblings about Satan. It more captures the gender apartheid world of High School.

The Prom scene is the centrepiece of the film, inevitably the one which shows up on YouTube. And most likely many would misremember it as the ending. But the payoff and finale is Carrie’s confrontation with the source of her problems, her mother. Who has a phobia of/ obsession with penetration, manifested by the creepy religious statue studded with arrows which she keeps in her ‘prayer closet’. (Presented as though of Jesus, but more likely St. Stephen.) She tells Carrie that she conceived her through marital rape, then says in the next breath that she enjoyed it, suitably twisted logic. Her attempt to kill Carrie, and Carrie’s response, are both stabbings.

The mother is perhaps best understood as Carrie’s phobic side, the part of her still freaked out from that shower scene. The part of her that baulks at going to the Prom, that looks for excuses to get out from it. In short, the part of her that has to die so she can grow up. The house, with its Gothic moodiness, endless candles and creepy icons, seems an extension of the mother. And the collapsing house is a Jungian symbol for the death of the old self, like a forest fire allowing for new growth.

But in the film’s bleakest twist Carrie doesn’t make it out alive either. In truth, it’s a little hard to work out what happens here. Does she kill her mother but then die from being stabbed herself? Does she, knowing she’s about to die, cause the house to collapse? But every previous instance of her powers are demonstrated through a close-up of her concentrating, then the result. Whereas the house starting to break apart seems, if anything, to take her by surprise. To make it work we might need some combination of these readings, stuck together with fuzzy logic.

The film works so well as a film, as an effective sequence of visual events, it’s tempting to not look under the hood. Particularly when you realise how messed up things are under there. As mentioned, it’s punishment which leads Chris to want to prank Carrie with the bucket of blood. But her classmate (and, it’s suggested, former cohort) Sue responds differently, persuading her own boyfriend Tommy to invite Carrie to the Prom, even rigging the vote so they become the winning couple. (Proms have to have a winner, it seems.)

This may be because the film needs to introduce this bit of grit in the works. With so much made inevitable, we need some element of mystery to focus on. Which is provided by Sue’s motivations. Innocent but not a fool, Carrie’s immediately suspicious. (“They’re just trying to trick me again”.)

As it turns out, Sue intends all this positively. But the manipulative element of it is raised only to get buried. For the Prom sequence to work, Tommy has to go along with it but then fall for Carrie. But then what of Sue? She just gives up her boyfriend? Plus there’s a more functional problem. Carrie can only get bucketed by going on stage. But there’s no sign Chris knows anything of Sue’s plans, any more than Sue knows of hers. How would she know to do this? We may be better off not looking under the hood after all.

Coming soon! The thrilling conclusion to Mutants Are Our Future…

Saturday, 30 April 2022

UT/ ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION/ MICA LEVI (GIG-GOING ADVENTURES)

Ut
Cafe Oto, London, Sat 23rd Apr



Ut are a punk (though they look to prefer the tag “radical”) trio, first forming in New York in 1978. Finding the Lower East Side an incubator which ultimately became a confine, they relocated to London. From where they were championed by John Peel, toured with the Fall and – not least – actually got to release some music. (Sometimes using This Heat’s studio.) In the make-it-happen spirit of those times, the band name just means “do”. Splitting in 1990, they’ve been playing on and off again since 2010.

Things started with the announcement drummer Nina Camal couldn’t make it. (Seems she’s the only member who went back to the States.) And then the shaky start. After a few numbers, seemingly dissatisfied themselves, they stopped for a lengthy retune. After which they brought on an extra player, rotating between a bassist, violinist or sax player. (The last two were the same guy, but then you’re not bothered about that.) After which they become the band we came to see.

It’s perhaps a little too easy to reach for Sonic Youth comparisons. Though both bands are sometimes described as No Wave, these gals are pitched closer to the shock-treatment anti-art iconoclasm of the original No Wave bands like Mars or DNA.

And seen live it becomes clear that, within that, Jacqui Ham was the most uncompromisingly No Wave, happy for her guitar to shriek. And Sally Young more willing to let a little… just a little, mind… rock riffing in. Their on-stage personalities seem to match this, Ham intense and driven, speaking to the audience only to convey information, Young more convivial.

But both bands share an urban urgency, even by punk standards, the restless energy of having constant vibrant input from a thousand different sources transformed into music. Ham has said “we liked the interplay between discordant things, the hard and soft, the lush and spiky, the friction between sounds and styles.” This does mean tracks tread a fine line between signal and noise, between accordance and dissonance. And hearing them bravely get up on that edge and dance, that becomes part of the appeal. Perhaps something to bear in mind with the initial problems.

And both bands demonstrate how post-beat American punk was, the Year Zero business a British invention. Lyrics are declaimed, somewhere between sung and recited, and hover between wordplay free association and suggestion of sense. Tellingly, track titles often collide clashing words, ’Mosquito Botticelli’, ‘Absent Farmer’, ‘Homebled’.

Oddly, it ended almost as it began. A time-consuming stage rearrangement to allow Ham to double up on drums yielded fitful success. Though perhaps kudos are due for trying the unorthodox. They then encored with ’Evangelist’, perhaps their signature tune, despite Ham explaining she could no longer play the notes then demonstrating this.

From Paris, three years ago…


 
ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION
Chalk, Brighton, Fri 22nd Apr



Before the band came on, the DJ played a Dead Kennedys remix which kept the original front end, while replacing the back with some hyperactive drum ’n’ bass. And that’s this review written right there, really.

More? Okay. Let’s generalise wildly. Music made by and for ethnic minorities tends to focus on the uplifting. It makes sense. Everyone knows the bad stuff already, what people want to hear is that there’s a way through it. While white music tends to foreground rage and frustration. Yes, we may be the white kids. But don’t go thinking we’re not pissed off too. Well, I did say it was a wild generalisation.

Anyway, Asian Dub Foundation somehow manage to combine both, often at the same time. People dance so much it feels like a Friday night out. (Not that I remember much.) But will boo Priti Patel’s name readily, and with practiced ease.

For a band nearly thirty years old, who I’ve seen more times than I can count, age has not withered them nor custom stained their variety. If anything its the reverse. Chandrasonic, the sole constant member, comments on their songs’ propensity to become true. Be a doomsayer to become a prophet, it seems. So ever-more souring times have just offered them more material.

Both set and encore start with quite extended instrumentals. Which don’t seem any kind of straying from their mission. It’s like their stance isn’t just in the lyric sheet, but baked hard into their sound.

Eleven years ago, after another of their storming visits to our shore, I wrote “Nazis have Screwdriver. We listen to Asian Dub Foundation. Which side would you rather be on?” And now there’s one less of Screwdriver than before, after he refused the vaccine (a “Jewish plot”, you see) and was promptly killed by Covid. While here’s ADF still firing from every cylinder.

'Zig Zag Nation' is a song they played, but this is from Paris. (I’m not sure why everything is suddenly from Paris…)


Mica Levi: ***
Milton Court, Barbican, London, Fri 29th Apr


The record shows me to be a fan of both Mica Levi’s score to ‘Under The Skin’, equal parts enthralling and unsettling, and her composition ‘Greezy’.

’Star Star Star’ (seems you are allowed to pronounce it like that) was, unlike its predecessors, performed by a small ensemble with minimal instrumentation. The night started off with some suitably unearthly polyphonic chanting, sometimes sounding like reciting your vowels in an alien language. Which gave way to languorous, minimal synths, sometimes with the barest drum accompaniment. Voices sometimes accompanied this, but from that point always recited, never sung or chanted.

There was some on-stage theatrics. Ensemble members taking turns to sit front-stage, like a kid called to the front of the class. A piece of paper was passed while lit by torchlight, like an orbiting moon. All of which seemed a tacit admission that, while there was nothing wrong with any of the music, neither was it quite enough.

Had I seen this cold, my final word might have been “promising”. It all feels back-to-front, like this should be the early works, Levi still finding their way, the accomplishments still ahead.

The Barbican explained “these scores consist of written text instructions, speech rhythm techniques and drawings.” Which I either forgot before attending, or only found afterwards. Which leaves me wondering whether this is one of those works where the process is taken as the thing, and the ensuing work not really the point.

Friday, 22 April 2022

THE WEIGHT OF ABSENCE (ANOTHER SPOTIFY PLAYLIST)



Don those headphones, travellers. It's time to soar past the confines of that three-minute limit, to get spacey, to go all ethereal, tuning into the music of the spheres before (very gradually) heading back down. All in under an hour of your Earth time. The Coil track in particular is like tuning into some new, between-stations frequency but finding messages made for you there.

The illo is De Chirico's 'Mystery & Melancholy of a Street’ (1914). The man who said: “To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of visions and dreams.”

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7K6Alt3ifjhmDzQz0Wkru2?si=8af2ab405c2b469b

OM: Pilgrimage
Earth: Datura’s Crimson Veils
Black Light District (aka Coil): Refusal Of Leave To Land
Faust: SoftTone
Föllakzoid: IIII
Neu!: Negativland

Saturday, 16 April 2022

‘LOUISE BOURGEOIS: THE WOVEN CHILD’

Hayward Gallery, London


“It is not an image I am seeking. It is not an idea. It is an emotion you want to recreate, an emotion of wanting, of giving, of destroying."

Getting out The Dirty Linen

Louise Bourgeois’ life was so long and so remarkably productive that this exhibition, fills the Hayward with work produced when she was in her Eighties and Nineties. An era where her art incorporated textiles and “domestic fabrics”, including bed linen and items of clothing.

Her career was effectively launched in 1932 where Fernand Leger, then her tutor, told her she was at root a sculptor. Because her art is about the physical, and needs its own physical presence. She said herself “to me, a sculpture is the body.” Yet much of her work alludes to the human figure without showing it. And crucially, when absent, the figure is made conspicuous by that absence. It’s in no one place in order to be everywhere.

As a rough but ready analogy - you know that scene from horror films, where someone pokes about in an attic full of weird old stuff, unsure whether something alive is hidden amongst it? In the films the cat is soon let out of the bag. Whereas this show is like rummaging endlessly about in that attic while remaining unknowing, and retaining all that enticing tension.


Let’s start off with the Pole pieces, where various elements are hung from a central pole (example above). They’re often items of clothing, as if arranged on a somewhat spectral radial clothes hanger. It recalls the commonly used Surrealist device, where clothes and mannequins are used to stand for the human figure. In one dated 1996 (all are untitled), a dress is sewn up and stuffed to resemble a mannequin.

The pole acts as a kind of equals sign, inviting us to compare the items around it. Which seems key. In general throughout the show its the large-scale assemblages which work best, where we have to somehow reconcile the often-disparate elements in our minds. (Even the piece from which the show took its title, a fabric book, is unmemorable.) So in another, also from 1996, a gnarled tree stump is combined with the clothing, with one truncated branch morphing into a mannequin arm.

Bourgeois called clothes a “second skin” and there’s a sense they’re to do with the extended self. (The way we formulate the terms “my foot” and “my shoe” so similarly.) But at the same time this expanded definition goes alongside a narrow one. Consciousness means that we’re aware we have a physical existence. Most living creatures don’t know this, precisely because that’s all they have. But consciousness can also lead us to the sense that physical existence goes on outside of ourselves, that our real self is elsewhere. And in practise our terminology becomes fuzzy, slipping between these two extremes. Sometimes our shoe is part of us, other times our foot isn’t.


At the same time she was producing Cells, installation environments enclosed by doors, walls or chain fencing, littered with objects. Many such as ’Cell VIII’ (1998, above) have narrow entry-ways. And we are, I suspect, intended to use them, to experience the work from inside, enveloped by it. (Unfortunately if unsurprisingly, they’ve been deemed off limits by a nervous gallery.)

Should we see these as rooms or head spaces? The point is they’re both. Earlier in her career, Bourgeois had produced a series of Femme Maisons, which were less anthropomorphised buildings than figures morphing into buildings.

Bourgeois’ career was long enough that she personally knew the Surrealists. Who she was simultaneously influenced by and took against, more-or-less for the reasons a women artist would. (She was a natural fit for the ‘Dreamers Awake’ show, on female responses to Surrealism.)

And, as mentioned, these phantom forms of the self are a Surrealist device. The Surrealists sought to undermine the notion of the essential self, which they saw as limiting. They developed a penchant for alter egos, and their works can often look like a self-portrait which has just been divided into its component parts, a cast of characters created to illustrate various aspects of the artist. All this is to the good.

But there’s times when this multiplicity of selves tries to do away with the central question just by sub-dividing it. What can look from outside as one person is in fact several selves cohabiting. We’re less like a classical bronze, solid and fixed, and more like a wardrobe, a collection of costumes. But the central question remains - what does it mean to have a self?


Bourgeois’ answer is that we become like a scrapbook of experiences we amass. These don’t build up like kit parts to create some core identity but perpetually interact. A little like the way we discovered atoms to not be a solid mass but a collection of particles in space, the self is little more than an optical illusion when seen from without. Elsewhere, a fabric head such as ’Pierre’ (1998, above) is held together by Frankenstein stitching, despite the cloth all being the same colour.

Along Came A Spider


“All very interesting”, you say, “but what about the spiders?” Bourgeois is famous for them, and one of the two variants of the exhibition poster is devoted to ’Spider (Cell)’ (1997, above), so let’s look at that next. A spider straddles a cell like a kind of double cage, and there is something deliciously menacing about those elongated, knotty legs.

Spiders do, in fact, have a body. At least they have head and abdomen segments. But we tend to conceive of them as a head sporting multiple limbs, an image we see in several of Bourgeois’ drawings. Part of our horrified reaction may be that we parse them as something we cannot parse. They appear to be physical beings but are unembodied, a defiance of what seems fundamental rules. So they come to represent utter otherness, as alien as anything on Earth can be. Hence their very existence can feel menacing.

But we also tend to parse them as feminine. Google has readymade answers to the questions “are there male spiders?” and “are house spiders female?” (Spoilers: “yes”, and “not always”.) Spider-Man aside, most spider characters in popular culture tend to be female. And this spider is shown with eggs, in the upper part of the cell. Her pose could be construed as protective of that cell. In which case, it’s being protected against us.

There’s also fragments of tapestry stretched along sections of the chain-link cage. And Bourgeois identifies spiders with her mother, who worked as a tapestry restorer. “The spider is a repairer”, she commented. And of course we need to bring together both these things. The ‘otherness’ of the spider remains part of the point. To Bourgeois, it’s the very thing which makes it something with which to identify.

The Needle And The Pin

On the subject of repairers, she further commented: “When I was growing up, all the women in my house were using needles. I’ve always had a fascination with the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair the damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness. It is never aggressive, it’s not a pin.”

Mostly it is remarkable to think she produced these works in decades most devote to watching UK Gold. However it is possible they represent an old person’s view of the world, a time when memory has more substance to you than substance has, when both your environs and mind are full of the detritus of earlier eras. Bourgeois said herself “I am a prisoner of my memories”, and she was perhaps caught in her own web.

In this way there’s a tension between whether her work is a repairing needle or a pin - in the sense of pinning something down, of documentation. Some critics claim to find her art pedagogically ‘feminist’ and therefore dismissible as one-dimensional. In fact it’s often highly ambiguous, and this is the axis on which that ambiguity plays out.


At times her art’s about the familiar Modernist frustration with the flesh, of our minds being stuck inside meat sacks which will slowly wear out on us. ’Lady In Waiting’ (2003, above) is another Cell, but of quite a different kind. It’s recursive, the small figure set inside a larger fabric chair, itself inside a doorless chamber. But also the figure is made of the same fabric as the chair. It isn’t just in the cell, but is of the cell - we are our own prison. Similarly the red legs (which must have been signed somewhere, but I couldn’t find it) have stigmata holes, as if bodily existence is inherently a form of crucifixion.



But more often their focus is gendered existence. You wouldn’t need to be a strict Freudian to see ’Cell XXV’ (2001, above) as composed of male and female elements. The three floating dresses seem to orbit the grounded spheres, as if the male essence is the centre of this world, protons to electrons. (Is there a testicular equivalent to phallocentrism?)

Perhaps significantly, its enclosed against us. (While elsewhere, vitrines are used as confining cells.) It’s sub-headed ’The View Of the World of the Jealous Wife’, as if a map of symbolic power, so perhaps owes us no other perspective. Yet where does that other perspective come in? Telling it like it is, that’s important. But in itself it’s insufficient.

The print ’Eternity’ (2009) is a clock face with a male and female torso set against every hour, one sporting an erection, the other already pregnant The pregnant belly is normally absent from Surrealist art, so fixated on male desire. Yet this also reads as essentialist, as if biology is all-defining to us. Every time is up-the-duff o’clock, with literally no way out of this endless round. In that sense it’s not so far from a work like Duchamp’s ’Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors’ (1923), which (as noted another time) involved “the reduction of sex to the mechanical.”


And ’Knife Figure’ (2002, above), where a chopping knife hangs poised over a pink mannequin, doesn’t look so different to some of Giacometti’s Surrealist sculptures, such as ’Man And Woman’ (1928/9) or the charmingly titled ’Woman with Her Throat Cut’ (1932). Does she intend as protest what they meant as simple description? Quite possibly. Does that make a difference? Yes. But not enough of one.

Whereas ’Femme’ (2005) is a block with ‘feminine’ parts attached, breasts and vagina. It seems linked to the notion of ‘femininity’ as a construct, an idea some have forced upon others.

Similarly, while the clothes could be her second skin, you could as easily see them as shed skins, relics of the past, the way a spider sheds old ill-fitting skins. The figure in ’Lady in Waiting’ has spools of thread going into her mouth, perhaps forming her, and spiders’ legs digging into her torso. Or is it the other way around, that she’s both exuding the thread and growing the legs? Could the cell be a womb-like space, in which it can grow?


This tension between pin and needle may be most acute in ’Repairers In the Sky’ (1999), where gashes in a metal plate are part-stitched together. This perhaps turns the magic of the needle in on itself. Whether we take these as eyes, mouths, vaginas or some combination of them all, does this turn ‘repair’ into a form of silencing, as erasure?

Overall, though ambiguity over this question runs right through her work, Bourgeois seems to fall more on one side. The existence of her art confirms that there can be such a thing as a woman artist, bringing a female perspective to things. The strange-but-true story that she saw little recognition till the Eighties may, at least in part, be due to this. But the content of her art, too often that merely looks back to before such a time.

Doors Marked Private

The items were sometimes foraged for, but often were personal effects, items of clothing she once wore, and similar. She said part of her fascination with the spider was that it made its web from its own body. And there’s no doubt that much of her work stemmed from her relationship with her father, which she regarded as emotionally abusive.

A door, used as a wall, on one of the cells is marked ‘Private’. And never let it be said we don’t know a metaphor when we run into one. What do we do when we reach this door? The standard answer is that we need the guidance of experts, who can unlock it for us, who can demonstrate their familiarity with her life by explaining where this particular object came from, and so on. And initially, this seam can seem a lucrative one to dig. We’re told, for example, to look out for when objects are in groups of five, representing the size of her family.

But these are breadcrumbs which will just get you lost in the wood. And we know this from those who’ve already followed them. Tracey Emin, a self-acknowledged Bourgeois fan who has even collaborated with her, shows us what the terminus of this trail is. Her ’My Bed’ (1998) offers no point of contact with the viewer. It shows us the messy, unmade bed where she had a depressive episode, but is silent on the episode itself. It’s like trying to figure out why a battle was fought, going only by marks left behind in a field. We who got there too late gape at the bed from the outside, remarking on the heightened sensitivities of the artist which we couldn’t possibly share.

Do these works tell us things about the artist? Of course they do, the artist made them! But the more challenging and more vital question is - do they say things to us? If they don’t then nothing is exchanged, and where there isn’t exchange there’s robbery. We shouldn’t look at Bourgeois’ work in that misdirected way, and we don’t need to.

Coming soon! You never know, there may be more visual arts reviews…

Saturday, 9 April 2022

SAVING GRACE FEATURING ROBERT PLANT + SUZI DIAN (GIG-GOING ADVENTURES)

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, Fri 8th Apr


Robert Plant… couldn’t all old rockers do it this way? A while ago he gave up singing “You been coolin’/Baby I been droolin’”, and headed off in a more rootsy direction. When he does a Led Zeppelin song it’ll be heavily reworked, and he doesn’t even bother with that once here. I’m not still doing what I did when I was twenty-one. Why should he?

Of course, paradoxically, he’s able to do this because Led Zeppelin had that element to them in the first place. But that’s part of the point. It’s because they were such a great band that he’s able to leave them, and it means they remain a great band in our memories. (Though it’s also true their one-off reunion show was awesome.)

His wish seems to subsume himself back in a band unit. The tickets in our pockets and the banner behind the stage read ‘Saving Grace’. And a great many of the vocals are sung chorally, between him and Suzi Dian, normally while looking to one another. It’s a noble endeavour. But of course a hopeless one. He gets the biggest round of applause as he comes on, and this review starts with his name.

The music’s rootsy not rocky, the guitarists swapping various acoustic and electric instruments with some dexterity. Early on there’s a banjo/mandolin team-up which sounds great, only for that combination to never come back. Even as they sing together it’s the difference between Plant and Dian’s voices which make it, like layers in a sandwich. (It’s bizarre to think now that throughout Zeppelin’s history he was only once paired with a female voice. It’s just that it was Sandy Denny, so we all remember.)

As he tends to these days, the set was mostly (perhaps all) covers. But with lyrics about angels handing you a new set of wings, of changing an old coat for a new, it feels like they’ve been chosen for a reason. This new band are yet to record. So while the support act has a CD stall they don’t, despite Plant’s career stretching back to the Sixties. Just like starting over.

There seems a strong tendency towards spirituals, perhaps more than the solo releases. And from there it all fits together. Choral vocals lend themselves to that, being intrinsically about the us. “It’s better than staying in,” Plant quips. And this proves timely. One of the first post-lockdown gigs reminds you that part of the point of music is to take you out of yourself, to bring us all together. The set ends with an out-and-out gospel number, five voices and one acoustic guitar around one mike. A warming way to be sent out into the night. I was still tempted to shout out for ‘Stairway to Heaven’, but resisted.

From an earlier tour, one of several Low covers Plant has done…

Saturday, 2 April 2022

‘CODENAME ICARUS’



(The next instalment of ‘Mutants Are Our Future’, on the Tomorrow People trope in popular media. With the usual PLOT SPOILERS. First part here, but they can be read in any order.)


Bitten By a Gift Horse 

Martin Smith… could there be a more regular-sounding name than Martin Smith? Then there’s his Northern accent, as so often in British culture used to signify utter ordinariness. Martin Smith is in trouble at school, described as “disruptive, slack, insolent”. Though we guess fairly quickly he’s not too dumb but too smart, solving a Maths problem his supercilious teacher couldn’t manage - and promptly being accused of cheating.

’Codename Icarus’ was a BBC children’s drama, first broadcast in 1981. And there are strong similarities between these classroom scenes and an earlier BBC effort, Susan’s in the introductory ‘Doctor Who’ episode, ‘An Unearthly Child’. 

However, as the title casually gave away, Susan had a diegetic explanation - she was actually an alien. Martin’s cleverness is just asserted. Okay, in his case it’s not actually a super-power, but it’s effectively treated as one. We’re told he’s “another Galileo, Einstein, Newton.” From the title down there’s repeated, if metaphoric, comparisons to flight.



And this works in the tale’s favour, creating no barriers between viewer and protagonist. When young it’s common enough to imagine yourself as imbued with almost endless possibility. If there’s no sign of any of that now, then you are yet to fully unfurl. The older generation thereby becomes your adversary, with their confining rules and customs. But you still believe this to be true of yourself, not those fools who surround you in your generation, who seem to be equally unaware of your genius. Youth makes you special. But only your youth. So in both scenes our identification character is shown as trapped between their teacher and classmates.

There’s little attempt to make him likeable. Unlike Susan or those nicely spoken Tomorrow People he’s every bit the irascible genius, obsessive in his work and impatient of others. He might not be a mutant, but he’s still a freak. (“Kids like us, freaks. No-one wants to know. Until they can use what we’ve got!”) He’s pretty horrid even to his highly platonic girlfriend. The assumption is that we’ll identify with him anyway. Or possibly even identify with him more.

Notably, his chief complaint about that teacher is that he’s never acknowledged the “beauty” of Maths. As children we expect school to be all about stimulating our imagination, only to find it’s more about rote learning of set doctrine, leading to several years of cross-purpose communication.

There are a few hints, however, as to where Martin’s Maths mind came from. He’s reading a book of advanced calculus only so he can improve on it, because it’s “out of date”. He won’t show it to anyone at school, as that would be like handing “flowers to an ape”. This is our old friend the generation gap as evolutionary leap. And flight is sometimes used as a metaphor for puberty.

Except it’s more acute than that. It’s not generation that makes the leap, but the essence of youth itself. We’re explicitly told that Martin and the other young proteges will be spent by the time they’re adults, to be replaced by the next intake of gifted teens. Never trust equations made by anyone over thirty.


He’s in the habit of sneaking back in after school to use the (wonderfully retro-looking) computer, climbing in the window like Romeo scaling the balcony to his beloved but forbidden Juliette. The ensuing scene, where he then gets into a text conversation, not knowing whether this is with the computer or someone else, must have seemed more mystifying in those days before e-mail. We are to take it, I think, that he assumes he’s communing directly with Science in some way, and is surprised to find another person on the other end.

This brings him to the attention of John Doll, who recruits him to attend Falconleigh (“some sort of school for bright kids”), run by - wait for it - the Icarus Foundation. The attentive, encouraging Doll with his suave, modulated voice seems the antonym to the closed-minded disciplinarian Maths teacher we ran into earlier. Naturally enough Falconleigh is in a country house, with kids reading under trees in bucolic grounds while classical columns adorn the door. Here it’s the tutors who call the kids “sir”, as they’re the ones with the real know-how.


An Uncivil War

But that’s only half the story. These events intercut with a Cold War espionage tale, where Allied missile tests are mystifyingly being disrupted. So we segue between war rooms and classrooms, between received pronunciation and regular life. In fact it starts out by establishing the Cold War scenario, and at some length.

Why do this? Why not kick off with the audience identification stuff? Partly it enhances the juxtapositions if we start grand and go small. The opening theme is dramatic and classical (Stravinsky’s ’Firebird’), as if the whole thing will go off in that direction. Then the first word used in the school setting is “disaster”, a Cold War word transported to the diminutive.

This double-barrel structure does somewhat give away that the gifted pupils of Falconleigh are going to be connected to this. (Still soon after the Second World War, Bletchley Park may have been an inspiration.) But then foreshadowing is generally chosen over surprise; official investigator Andy Rutherford soon guesses all’s not well in the school of Falconleigh, with the plot throwing obstacles in his way.  

And that’s because this is in essence a series about a nightmare hiding inside of the dream. The ostensibly similar ‘Tomorrow People’ story ‘The Secret Weapon’ is based around kidnap, about being taken from your kind. This is about being seduced and recruited, being taken to your kind, but it all goes wrong anyway. Like being bitten by a gift horse.

And unlike the Tomorrow People, there’s nothing inherently moral about Martin’s genius, which can be weaponised. (“It’s not the knowledge that’s bad, it’s what the rest of us do with it.”) Hence Martin’s antagonist soon switches to Doll.

Doll tells him he should become “just what you ought to be,” but of course he’s the one doing the defining. Scientific enquiry is made into a kind of Fordist production line, each pupil working on their part while unaware of the whole. Results end up on “the supermarket shelves”.

Martin’s truculent working class manner, so at odds with Doll’s devilish charm, makes it all something of a class issue. In fact it’s not far off being a story about a bright working class kid who wins a scholarship but becomes disillusioned, just with added space lasers.

He resents the fruits of his labour being used by others, even if it’s mental labour. (“Have you ever had an idea that hasn’t been in anyone’s head before yours? Hasn’t been greasy-fingered?”) His repeated line “I won’t be used” becomes a variant on “I won’t go down pit” from ’Kes’. (Which also used the metaphor of flight as escape.) And in a reversal of the colour coding we saw in ’Secret Weapon’, it’s Martin who sports black and Doll white.


In a nod both to the Foundation and series title, Doll tells him he should “free your spirit and mind… fly”. Ironically, then, he’s dismissive when he sees Martin sporting binoculars, telling him there’ll be no time for his birdwatching hobby here. So it’s in not doing what he ought that Martin starts to stumble across the truth. Which happens when he sees a pigeon fly near an outbuilding, then drop dead to the ground.

Yet Martin the freak also knows he belongs nowhere else. The story rather labours this dilemma with his brainwashing, which seems no more than a souped-up, dramatised way to portray his unwillingness to leave the gift horse behind, even as its biting into him. In fact, with the girlfriend figure that seems to be literally the case, as if she didn’t require the metaphor part.

So what starts out as a Cold War drama effectively turns into a civil war within the Establishment. With Martin about as uncivil to the Establishment Good Guys as he is Doll. When parallel protagonist Andy offers to get him out of Falconleigh he replies that either way “the bomb would get made, wouldn’t it?” Though this development is rather scuppered by the revelation that Andy’s posh boss is really on our side.

Only in the final episode does Martin meet the mind behind the Foundation, Frohelich. Unlike Doll his motivations are much more personal, and he appeals to Martin to stay, without the usual school aids of hypnosis and injections. A scene which becomes the Last Temptation Of Martin.

Frohelich’s own situation was even quite similar to Martin’s. Told by the Nazis to make a bomb, he escaped by faking his death and in a sense did die, losing his vital youthful insight. (We’re repeatedly shown him flying but by artificial means, by helicopter.) The Foundation seems his attempt to perpetuate this youthfulness, keep it bottled, as well as create a technocratic elite to take charge of things. But also, it’s heavily hinted, so that he can keep associating with others like him. The whole scheme’s an elaborate way of asking “will you be my friend?”


As things progress the espionage plotline seems to be taking over, only for it to fall away and be replaced by this scene. Martin isn’t rescued, and we don’t see what happens to Doll or Frohelich. The point is that Martin hears Frohelich out and refuses. The show’s peculiarity is to cleave closely to other elements of the trope, but make a frontal assault on the business about joining the gang of your peers.

And arguably this contradiction comes out in the very last shot. As Martin runs into the arms of his rescuers we look on in convenient long shot, out of hearing. He’s never had much to say to them so far, and that doesn’t look likely to change. In Joseph Campbell terminology, this is a story which ends with the Refusal of the Call. So perhaps the last shot should have been him slamming the door on Frohelich. In true stroppy teenager style.

What’s more it includes the most Eighties school disco scene of all Eighties school disco scenes. Which might sound a rash boast, but is not an idle one..

Coming soon! Mutants Are Still Our Future, but the series will be taking a short break…

Saturday, 26 March 2022

SUNBURNED HAND OF THE MAN (GIG-GOING ADVENTURES RESUMED)

(Cafe Oto, London, Sat 20th Mar)


The last time I saw self-styled ‘free rock music’ collective Sunburned, nigh-on fifteen years ago, I wrote such a mini-review I may as well quite it in full: 

“This band has a cool idea (or at least an idea I took from them), to take the trajectory of the Sixties San Francisco sound and reverse it. While the original bands got more into the studio and ‘proper’ album releases, why not take it the other way and explore the ‘improvised happening’ angle instead? 

“The results were mixed, but with high points. The band seemed to need a beat going for something to play against, and sometimes floundered without this. And the ‘happening’ elements (brandishing lighted crosses etc) just seemed the wrong end of hippy – ostentatious and self-consciously ‘meaningful’.”


And stuff I’d heard on-line since then I’d liked more. And they have such a floating line-up, it’s unlikely two sightings will be similar. Besides, I haven’t been getting out so much lately…

Indeed, many of the details differed. But what was I to come away with but the same mixed response?

It was in a way summed up the the two vocalists. (Neither of whom, I think, were there last time.) One went in for the ‘outsider’ style often found in free impro music, guttural moans and wails which sound as much a stranger to standards speech patterns as singing conventions, surely too unmediated to be directed in any way, yet too perfectly matched to the music to be anything else. Further enhanced by his live electronic treatment of them.

Rarely were discernible words used, and when they were it was with destructive Dada intent. At one point he recited the well-known Karen mantra, “I want to speak to your manager”, until it truly became a mantra.

While the other vocalist recited his lines theatrically and ostentatiously, like the wrong side of Jim Morrison had broken free and gone solo. Yes, you were clearly not intended to take these altogether seriously. Still didn’t help.

Curiously then, the points where the two overlapped were effective in the extreme. Perhaps because they were doing such different things there was no risk of competition.

The guitar and bass were often restrained while insistent, contributing tones or pulses, sometimes just etherial shimmer. Which would sometimes build up behind the combined vocals, culminating into a cacophony, a soundtrack for the end times.

The accompanying film show had none of the standard morphing psychedelic colours, and was more devoted to juxtaposing images of flying with those of crashing or falling. The opening sequence was of a truck going into a giant-size shredder, a fairly audacious opening statement!

The gig was, I think, a siren attempt to draw you in before deranging all your senses as much as that truck got it. There’s a ‘devil clown’ vibe to it, enhanced by lines about melting faces and all the absurd gestures, such as the drummer sporting a horse’s head as he plays. The band name may be a reference to the price to be paid when gaining wisdom. (Well, either that or I’m just getting carried away.)

Yet again I’m reminded how strange it is that people think psychedelic music is all pastoral and twee, like fairy tales for grown-ups. Whereas it’s more exercised by the desire to drive you out of your senses. And being driven out of your senses every now and then is good for you. Free rock music!

Friday, 18 March 2022

KNOW NO BOUNDARIES (ANOTHER SPOTIFY PLAYLIST)



After recent endeavours, time we went back to a good old-fashioned polyglot playlist. No theme or scheme, just a bunch of great tracks collided together, all rapid fire from the left field. Because as Mclusky remind us great explorers know no boundaries.

The illo's of great explorer Henry Morton Stanley. And never did a man look more like he should be called Henry Morton Stanley...

Chumbawamba: Bankrobber
Jeffrey Lewis + The Deposit Returners: Carpe Diem
Julian Cope: Parallel University
PJ Harvey: Beautiful Feeling
Marlena Shaw: Woman Of The Ghetto
Moon Duo: Lost Heads
The Delgados: Thirteen Gliding Principles
The Magnetic Field: When My Boy Walks Down The Street
Pixie: Ed Is Dead
Richard Thompson: The Egypt Room
Mclusky: Your Children Are Waiting For You To Die
Zounds: Fear
Rhiannon Giddens + Francesco Turrisi: Little Margaret
The Imagined Village: Cold Hailey Rainy Night
Fucked Up: Tell Me What You See 

"She took my hand, and then she said to me
"There are things underneath, that you have never seen…”

(More Mutants Are Our Future next time…)