Sunday, 21 November 2010


Concorde 2, Brighton, 3rd November

We could start by calling !!! (aka Chk Chk Chk) punk-funk, except they’re not entirely enamoured of the term. “It’s always a bit upsetting when you set out to do something original and someone can just put a simple label on it,” Nic Offer laments. Perhaps the frontman protests too much. You can, after all, belong to a genre without being generic. And yet, slapping down the term as if it explains everything, as if it’s a formula not a tag, can conceal the spectrum going on within.

“Any two-dimensional tags and comparisons with bands like A Certain Ratio were poorly misjudged,” claims Ian Roullier in the same interview. Ironically, I saw A Certain Ratio in the self-same venue less than a year ago, and can’t see comparisons to them as damning. There were certainly similarities between the bands, even down to their line-up. (Both had a black woman providing backing vocals, something about which does strike me as slightly creepy. Like they’re saying, “look, an honest-to-God black person, with their sense of rhythm and everything!”)

But it’s true that there’s also important differences. There’s something essentially British about A Certain Ratio, wrapping funky rhythms with their post-punk cool like a baked Alaska. !!! are definitely hot! And despite so many American bands who drank deeply from Gang Of Four (everyone from the Chilli Peppers to Fugazi), that influence doesn’t really fit !!! either. (A cocktail of punk and funk, in roughly equal measures.) The guitar often echoes the clicky licks of Talking Heads and, while the comparison’s far from exact, the expanded Heads of Stop Making Sense might make a better comparison. They sound too darn funky for other analogies to fit. They’re like punks playing funk, infecting the music with punk energy. (Some punks persist in thinking theirs is the only music with urgency and vitality. That ain't necessarily so! It just happens that here it is...)

The venue seemed oddly half-full, especially given the well-received show they gave only a few years ago. This didn’t dampen the band’s ardour, but perhaps led to a little overcompensation. Offer perhaps pulled the trick of vaulting down into the audience once too often, as if trying to convince us we were at a smaller and more intimate venue than we were.

Last time he seemed something of a tranced-out Jim Morrison figure, looking at something beyond the room. (He passed out at the show’s end, and a sheepish colleague had to come back out to explain there wouldn’t be an encore.) This time he was more an entertainer, parlaying with the audience, coining silly dances.

It was a good enough gig. But I guess I liked the Jim Morrison figure better.

Hector’s House, Brighton,18th November

Sun Araw is Cameron Stallones when working solo from Southern Californian psychedelic trancers Magic Lantern. Nope, I’d never heard of any of this either, but something attracted me to the flier given out at the recent Melt-Banana gig, enough for me to check them out on-line.

A sound-bite description might be ‘dubby electronica meets surf guitar, with a hefty side-order of psychedelia’. But let’s go for something a little more poetic... Imagine the echoes of some long-gone beach party, the bongos and guitars caught on the breeze, drifting in and out with the waves - but passing through time instead of space, and never quite fading out. The travelling has distorted them, mixed them with an undercurrent of everything that’s happened subsequently.

What’s attractive is the way the music builds on the residue of the past to do something new, without being mere postmodern pastiche. Surf’s not being referenced from inside some ‘ironic’ quotation marks, like a hipster sampling something he found in a yard sale, a curiousity he’s actually disconnected to. Instead it’s assumed to still be bleeding into the present. The result is an elegy for a world half-forgotten... or perhaps entirely forgotten, and we’re now just wrapping a cargo cult around its echoes. The present is often seen as a barrier to tapping into past music, something to unlearn in a fool’s quest for authenticty. Here the interplay is the focus.

The palindromic name suggests this two-way perspective between past and present. Forwards it sounds like a sun greeting, chanted in some Tahitian dialect. Yet backwards... well, just try it backwards.

I did, however, wonder how such music might come over live.

I’m still kind of wondering.

A small and irregularly used venue, Hector’s rather rudimentary sound system did present problems for the sonic spread. Stallones abruptly stopped the first attempt at a track, pronouncing it “not cool”. And, middle-aged as I now am, I did at times find his hipster-slacker persona grating. (Though I warmed to his description of going down to the sea before his set, as if drawing on its power.) Nevertheless it was enthralling to watch the layers built up before your eyes - each element almost ludicrously simple, but combining into a rich mosaic. And those dubby lines can’t help but stir an audience to movement...

A film archivist by day, Stallones is influenced by visual art. While I’m not too taken by the VR gadgetry which seems to accompany most of the vids on YouTube, perhaps such evocative music would be enhanced by looped videos. (I’m guessing this lo-fi act couldn’t easily take such a thing on the road, but it would be a sight to see...)

Though the winter setting for this video is almost audaciously wrong, it does convey the free-floating quality of the music with admirable simplicity. (As well as remind me of the classic Pere Ubu description of “dub housing”.) It also accentuates Stallones’ comparison here of his music to long-take, deep-field filming.

I’m slightly hesitant about posting this gig snapshot, as the sound quality was better than reproduced here. But it does show the layers in creation, and maybe give a sense of verite...

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