Thursday, 28 October 2010

MORE GIG-GOING ADVENTURES: DRUM EYES/ MELT-BANANA

Jam, Brighton, 13th October
After missing the start of both Mudhoney and Jonathan Richman, I pointedly arrived unfashionably early to make sure I was there for Drum Eyes in the support slot - having been favourably impressed by them on a previous occasion. Whereupon they pulled the post-punk trick of confounding my expectations with an entirely different set.

Their previous outing had been like the last word in metronomy, a single piece which snaked it’s way along the whole length of their set. With such a large ensemble , it felt like an exercise in getting the maximum number of people to employ the minimum number of notes for the maximum amount of time. Every now and again it would show small signs of breaking away from it’s trance-groove, only to have the drums break in and snap everything back into line like a barking sergeant-major. The entire audience nodded appreciatively along, spellbound, as if in a slo-mo movie.


This time the art-event was replaced by a set, and the ensemble condensed into a five-piece band. A pretty unorthodox band, sporting two drummers, but nevertheless a band. My surprise turned to disconcertion when they opened with a Kraftwerky synth-pop melody. Thankfully a little patience saw them first shred this melody, then bury it under the steamroller of some pounding riffs. (In the parlance of the constabulary, this is a number I now know to be named ‘Future Police’.)

Though formed by local boy DJ Scotch Egg (who normally makes music using the sound chips of old games consoles), it may be more telling that Drum Eyes often feature former Boredoms drummer E-Da. Their sound is closest to the Boredoms’ ‘Super ae’ incarnation, when they were employing extensive amounts of drummers to channel the sound of Neu! as much as humanly possible.

Certainly, they took the Neu! formula of combining ascents with plateaus, where forcefully driving riffs would burst through into serene floaty passages, before abruptly kicking off into yet another ascent. On paper that may seem little more than the beat/trance-out/beat sandwich structure used by every single dance track ever. But the distinctions between the sections is so much greater, and yet the transitions so natural, that the comparison is simply transcended.

There’s of course a big debate about whether bands today can capture anything beyond the form of Krautrock, or whether it’s just a bunch of latecomers hopefully clanging. And of course, it would be absurd to pretend we were in some Free Arts Lab in Seventies West Berlin and The Man was about to be overthrown. But the set had for me the same sense of fearlessness, of heads-down dedication yet also of rule-eviscerating inventiveness, of music being boiled down and remoulded in their hands. Numbers didn’t advance from A to B in neat little diagrams; tracks surged forward, took on lives of their own, merged into one another. Robyn Hitchcock once said the Soft Boys were able to play with all the types of plasticine without them becoming one colour. But the description works better for Drum Eyes.

I was so impressed, I bought the company. (Actually I just bought the CD...)

Alas, neither this gig nor the earlier  ensemble piece seem available on YouTube. Instead here’s something from last year in London...



I have now lost track of the amount of times I’ve seen Melt-Banana. For over a decade, they’ve regularly treated Brighton to one of their maelstrom gigs, and they’ve yet to do any thing less than storm the place.

They perform as if they’re ceaselessly lobbing percussion grenades into the audience, intense bursts of energy compared by their own website to “roller-coaster in amusement park”. Singer Yasuko Onuki twists and convulses, spitting words out in such a staccato, machine-gun style that I only realised she was singing in English by reading about it.

They could perhaps exemplify our title term ‘lucid frenzy’, combining absolute dementia with utter clarity, wildness with focus. Completely disparate elements can be drawn into their orbit and transformed into part of their sound. They stem from the Tokyo noise scene (home of the unadulterated noise-waves of Merzbow), but seem equally influenced by bubblegum pop! The catchiest of melodies can ride their riffs, like a surfer aloft on a wave. There’s a jaw-dropping degree of commitment to their live performances, but also a wry humour and sense of absurdity.

I’ve often thought their trademark to be the ‘short sharp songs’ section, where they rattle through a whole series of numbers which can be as short as seven seconds! I’m still not quite sure whether these are some kind of Dadaist provocative joke or actually the epitome of their sound, which is probably the point in itself. Certainly they aren’t snippets or samples from longer songs, but tracks in miniature – delivered bonsai fashion. Perhaps they’re the other numbers’ future, compressed into neat pellets of energy like pills replacing meals in old SF films. (Certainly, if they are just a joke, they’re one the band take seriously enough to add to their CDs.)

However, over the years it seems their sound has mutated. This night that section was relegated to the encore (explained away by them being “short of time”). Instead the opening, and more free-form power electronics/drums section was extended from the last time I saw them. (Though again lit only by the roving light of the band’s head torches, as if we’re in some primeval cave ritual.) Their most recent, live CD covers only this sound, under the rebranded name of Melt-Banana Lite.

Their performance here doesn’t seem to have made it onto YouTube either, yet for some reason almost all of last year’s gig at the Engine Rooms has! Here’s a highlight from then...


Postscript! I’ve left it too late to properly review this Telescopes gig from Hector’s House, which happened back in mid August. (It was actually frontman Stephen Lawrie playing with the amassed guitars of London space droners One Unique Signal, but why split hairs?) But the blur effect on this video makes such a perfect corollary for their smeary sound that it would be foolish not to pass on...

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