Saturday 17 July 2010


The Engine Rooms, Thurs 27th May

If you’ve not heard of them before, my handy sound-bite description of Acid Mothers Temple would be “the Japanese Hawkwind.”  (Though founder Kawabanta Makoto describes them as “extreme trip music.”) However, these johnny-come-latelies weren’t formed in the classic acid rock era but in 1995 – which actually gives them something of an advantage. While you can feel indulgently happy about the fact that Hawkwind are still going, let’s face it you wouldn’t rush to attend any of their recent gigs. Consequently, AMT are the band I’d insist someone see if they dismiss all hippie music as “mellow”.

Another difference may be that, while Hawkwind had many different eras, Acid Mothers Temple throw up many parallel incarnations.   (Wikipedia lists ten!) For the gen on these, you have to look to the second half of their name. In this very venue, I’d previously seen them under the suffix The Cosmic Inferno. As a rough and ready comparison, they were then most like Hawkwind’s New Wave era (the ’Quark, Strangeness and Charm’ or ’PXR5’ albums). They balanced free-form jams with spiky songs, and featured a crazy girl drummer (Pikachu Makoto) who leapt up half-way through and took over as front-woman as if the idea had just occurred to her.

The Melting Paraiso UFO, conversely, are all free-form jams, with no song structures and scant vocals. Now some may back away when I say that these jams did stretch. But stretching is not the same thing as meandering, or trilling about goblins. It’s not the music’s weakness but it’s strength. I can’t even remember the last time I listened to Radio One through choice. But Pop culture is still so insidious and all-pervasive that, no matter how much alternative music you listen to, a timer in your head expects a track to fade out after the regulation three or four minutes. But here the extended duration is essential in feeding the sense of derangement, the all-enveloping feeling that you have no sense of the track ever ending. If you’re going to get lost in the music you need some space to get lost in. It’s the difference between a hippie backpacking barefoot across India and a package tour to Goa.

Yet for all that, I’m not sure I didn’t prefer the Cosmic Inferno version. Partly, the song elements give the jams something to kick off against, like a taste of earth before you go floating in space. But mostly I feel free-form psychedelic jams work best in the environment which spawned them, hippy ‘happenings’ or curfew-free free festivals. Just as the appeal of each track is its sense of endlessness, the set should appear as unconstrained, the environment open. That doesn’t fit quite so well in a regular venue. (And, for a scuzzy pisshole, The Engine Rooms is obsessively anal about curfews.)
But to put this carping into perspective, what we’re really comparing here is ‘great’ and ‘even better’. You’re best off seeing the group in any incarnation which comes along. One thing they won’t be is “mellow”...


The Hydrant (formerly The Hare & Hounds), Sunday 30th May
There’s actually something of a thriving free music scene here in Brighton. Colour Out of Space doesn’t just spring up from nowhere. I don’t tend to blog about it much partly because I don’t end up going as often as I’d like to, and partly because there doesn’t always seem that much to say about it. Some of it is great, other bits promising, large parts terrible. That’s a local music scene for you, of whatever stripe.
But at this all-dayer (actually more of an all-eveninger), two sets almost co-incided which made for a handy juxtaposition of something. (I have to say “almost” because between them two girls did an electronics set whilst clad in full burkas, at one point treating us to the sight of burka disco dancing. It was that kind of a night...)

On first, The A Band launched into some free impro. At first it sounded like each player was merely testing out their instrument, seeing what it could do in the acoustics and against the other instruments, and soon things would start to gel. After a while, the realisation sunk in that this was it. It wasn’t even that they weren’t throwing the six to start, they were tossing the dice oblivious to where it might take them. Breaking out of the strictures of regular musical structures is all very laudable, but these were rebels without a clue.
They might contend that they intended to be playful. But in fact it highlighted the negative aspects of child’s play, the frenetic inability to resolve on anything combined with the “look-at-me” attitude, while lacking the unhinged invention. It might have been bearable had it been just bad, but it reeked of a smug “freak out the squares” attitude. At an alternative music night in Brighton. They were actually squaring out the freaks...
Ironically, I don’t think of Bolide Awkwardstra as one of my favourite Brighton bands. I tend to like them when I see them, but don’t seek them out. They’re too based in free jazz to really excite me. (Albeit a kind of free jazz that sounds like it’s been reconstructed from Magic Band recordings – a good thing in my book!) But put them on against the superficially similar A Band, and what they can do suddenly starts to shine. However crazy the surface of their music gets, there’s guiding forces beneath it. They play together. their sets naturally cycling between sections.
It’s reminiscent of the Germaine Greer quote which opens the Sinead O’Connor album ’Universal Mother’. We could, she contends, “make politics irrelevant by a kind of spontaneous co-operative action, the like of which we have never seen, which is so far from people’s ideas of viable social structure that it seems to their mind total anarchy but what is really very subtle forms for inter-relations which do not follow hierarchical patterns.”
If at times Bolide seem to be speaking an alien language, that’s still a language! Go abroad and hear a new language to your ears, and at first all the unfamiliar elements leap out at you. Yet give it a while and, even if you can’t yet follow it, you start to catch its cadences. You sense it’s making some kind of sense, even if it’s workings as yet elude you.
Yet many stop at that first step. Most simply give up there, and pronounce it “just a noise.” But others embrace it for that reason, and start trying to duplicate it. Some thought they could sound like the Sex Pistols, just by swearing loudly on stage. Some thought they could draw like Eddie Campbell by scribbling down their last night’s pub crawl. And some take up free music just from what they hear taken out of it, insisting there’s “no rules, daddy-o.”
Bolide Awkwardstra are speaking an alien language. The A Band are simply doing baby talk.

The Albert, Fri June 18th

”In the end, the idea of Subway Sect proved more potent and influential than the few records they released... in their under-achieving lifetime.”

- Simon Reynolds, ‘Rip It Up And Start Again’

It is difficult to read Simon Reynolds or Clinton Heylin without deciding to base your life on Vic Godard’s teachings. A devout contrarian, he devoted his musical career to the theory that the most punk thing to do was always the most un-punk thing to do. Briefly managed by the Clash’s Bernie Rhodes, Subway Sect were told their new drummer had to have short hair (the requisite punk look), “so we hired the first bloke with hair down to his arse.”
Someone at this very gig tells me about seeing the band back in the day. After the Birthday Party had shrieked and howled their way through the support slot, Vic stepped up and entertained the leather jackets by crooning his way through old Dean Martin numbers.
< Of course in summary this meant he devoted his music career to not having a music career, and pretty soon he’d become a postman. But, as is the way of these things, now he’s back.
Which immediately raises a problem, which Reynolds’ quote above hopefully pinpoints. Lydon was the legend who sang ’Anarchy in the UK’, Iggy the legend who sung ’Search and Destroy.’ Godard is just a legend. It didn’t really hit me until I was there how few of his songs I actually knew. A couple of the oldies I only recognised from reading the words in Reynolds’ or Heylin’s books. (Something I’m sure he’d be pleased to hear.) But if he does something contrary now, outside of and after the fervour of the first punk wave, he’d only be doing what we expect. Yet if he just treats us to the oldies, that would be expected as well.
Wisely, Godard circumvented this problem by ignoring it. Most of the songs I’d reckon to be new. With no other old Secters present, the backing band were sharp-dressed musos, in sharp contrast to his ungainliness. Notably, one of them had to tune his guitar for him. But somehow they gave the set a picture-frame effect, framing and emphasising his bumbling, gentleman amateur status. The one problem they did face, the bass drum not staying fixed, was ironically solved by him standing with one leg pressed against it - happenstance forcing him into a fittingly awkward pose. And at one point during a tune-up, someone cried from the audience “this is irrelevant!”, so perhaps the old spirit isn’t dead after all. It was like, rather than live up to his old reputation, he was trying to do a regular set - but this was the closest he could come. He couldn’t sell out if he wanted to, and he may well have been trying.
The set was admittedly patchy, but had highlights. Oldies came up later on in the evening, but didn’t dominate. Perhaps it wasn’t the greatest gig of the year, but then it was never lining up to be. It was quirky and eccentric. It was a Vic Godard set.
This was the third gig I’ve seen this year (after Wreckless Eric and Viv Albertine of the Slits) where old punks decided to do something new,which reflected their lives now, rather than squeeze back into the bondage trousers. The results may be uneven, but then everyone forgets how uneven punk was back in the day, before it was filtered into compilation CDs and “remember when” features. Which is as it should be. Life is too short to spend it trying to recapture your youth.
I’m not sure, but I think that’s the back of my head persistently getting in the way in this video...

Coming Soon! Gig-going adventures of even greater belatedness...

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