Saturday 25 November 2017


Barbican Centre, London, Mon 20th Nov

Unlike the electronica or expanded (or even multiplied) orchestras for which Stockhausen is most known, ’Stimmung’ is small in scale, featuring six voices accompanied only be each other. But in it’s own way, it’s as legendary as ’Gruppen’. The programme calls it “the first major Western composition to be based entirely on the production of vocal harmonies”.

In the Guardian, Andrew Clements complained 
“Despite its sophistication and influence, [it] now seems a bit of a period piece… as much a product of the 60s as Afghan coats and flares.”

Perhaps there are things which are both influential and period pieces, but it’s still somewhat odd to concede a work is “one of the starting points for the spectralism movement” before tying it so inexorably to joss sticks and lava lamps. Particularly when spectralist composers such as Haas or Dumitrescu are not only still composing, but remain at the top of their game.

But more to the point, while we think more of popular music as epitomising it’s era there’s no reason why contemporary music can’t be as zeitgeisty. And ’Stimmung’ now seems inseparable from the Silicon Chip Spiritualism found in Seventies science fiction, when computers were forever being called Zen. (Or at least the extended Seventies, which allows us to include the piece’s first performance in 1968.) And any resemblance, at least in my lowbrow mind to the conjuration by chanting scene in Planet of the Spiders’ was enhanced by the singers sitting around and being lit by a glowing orb, like some futuristic scrying glass. (Well, a touch of soft stage lights too.)

Each section starts with a singer in turn intoning a single word, which can be a divinity but also a day of the week. Similarly to Steve Reich’s ’Different Trains’, the cadences of the word then determine the section, as the other singers harmonise around it. When the initial singer figures they’re done, they pass on to the next in line.

The sense what we’re hearing is glossolalia for the space age is enhanced when some spoken word sections are in German. (Which seems to be becoming a habit of mine.) I figured at the time that actually enhanced the piece, and you should really be listening to the sound of the words rather than the words themselves. And later, coming across Stockhausen’s Sixth Form ‘erotic’ poetry in the programme, I realised I had figured right.

It’s enthralling to find so much mileage in the human voice, whole sonic spaces thrown up when the six voices all pitch in. There’s the feeling it’s doing something new and strange while simultaneously returning to the roots of music. It’s as if strangeness isn’t foreign and distant but all about us, waiting for us to open up and notice it.

Yet, even though I’ve been known to sing the praises of duration in music, eighty minutes was admittedly too long, particularly for what was essentially a series of miniatures with no underlying structure. As the voices orbited one another I did get lost in it, but before those eighty minutes were up I wanted my way out.

’Cosmic Pulses’ is from Stockhausen’s later period, where everything was organised around two meta-works. This dates from 2006/7 and forms part of the second of them, ’Klang’.

It turns out to be, in a crafty piece of programming, to be ’Stimmung’s polar opposite, a hugely expansive all-electronic piece. If ’Stimmung’ was like Blake’s “infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour ’Cosmic Pulses’ was… well, the name says it all.

Twenty-four electronic loops rotate between eight sensurround speakers set around the auditorium, introduced and phased out one at a time but progressing at different speeds. The programme includes Stockhausen’s score for the piece, a neat and ordered mathematical grid. The piece is anything but.

It starts out like some cross between aliens landing and sets of peeling bells on brown acid, mighty sounds still skittering around the space. As the loops build up it becomes harder and then impossible to discern individual sounds, and the work achieves absolute delirium. As Robert Henke puts it in the programme “when you encounter the work, it’s a vibrant and colourful composition, in no way a mathematical exercise. It is one of electronic music’s great experiences: an overwhelming, visceral, sonic maelstrom in the total immersion of surround sound.”

And speaking of Henke, he provided the accompanying ‘laser art’, projected across the auditorium’s ceiling. Henke concedes in the same programme the risks of “superimpos[ing] any sonic of colour qualities onto the piece.”

But the display is effective through it’s fidelity to the structure of the music. Three laser beams shot from each speaker, varying only in colour and thickness. At the height of the maelstrom they started to splay concentric circles on the opposite wall. The conceptual purity of it reminded me of Lis Rhodes’ ‘Light Music’ installation at the Tate.

And the display underlined what an installation piece this was, irreducible to YouTube clips or home stereo systems. The Barbican were not sales pitching when they said “this is music that demands to be heard – and felt – live.” After the effective but elongated ’Stimmung’ this half-hour composition was like the cake after the sandwiches.

Unlike ’Stimmung, ‘Cosmic Pulses’ is not only devoid of words or human hands, but untethered to any era. Whether it’s a peer into the strangeness of Stockhausen’s head or a genuine glimpse of the immensity of it all I could tell you not.

The Haunt, Brighton, Sun 19th Nov

Before the gig I joke with a friend that I’m seeing the only punk band less musical than Crass. If the Fugs had only performed their exorcism of the Pentagon, never bothering releasing albums or playing regular gigs, they’d be something like Pussy Riot.

And some go on from there to see Pussy Riot as political activists only, which seems to me to drive past the point without even looking out of the window. Much like the Fugs, they were great devisers of memorable images. Their uniform, the colourful home-made balaclava and strap dress combo, combines the assertive, the playful, the DIY and anti-star anonymity all into one. While also riffing on the classic punk tactic of taking images of femininity and twisting them, as used by bands like the Slits and Huggy Bear. Really, sometimes the whole being in a band part of being in a band is the irrelevant bit.

And this matters because images matter, because they can have political effects beyond politics. Party political broadcasts spend little time on the niceties of policy, in the same war car adverts don’t focus on fuel efficiency. Talk to any regular person about politics and you soon see why, it quickly becomes obvious their opinions aren’t based on graphs and statistics at all. 

But while their images seek to establish brands, ours need to stimulate. Pretty much from the off, I felt at odds with the rote sloganising of Trot groups. They were moribund, while the politics I wanted to engage with were about seizing the imagination.

This performance, not really a gig, features Punk Prayer performer Maria Alyokhina, and has been described as “fevered monologues underpinned by real footage and frenetic noise-punk.” She and her fellow performers spit out the story in punchy, slogan-sized chunks, phrases often repeated for effect, against pumping sax and keyboards and a filmshow. (They speak-sing in Russian, with the film translating.)

That’s a description which might strike fear into those who survived the Eighties, when agit-prop made for so much bad art and worse politics. But actually a story we all know well becomes powerful and involving. By accident or design she humanises the story just enough to make it engaging, while presenting it not as a re-enactment but a call to arms. At points their methods are made into a bulleted DIY guide, while the T-shirts state “you could be Pussy Riot”. It has the punkish mixture of antagonising and galvanising.

The polemicisation does mean the performance rattles past questions you might like to ask. What domestic effect did they hope to have, and how do they see that now? Was the collective member who initially commented they’d be “hated” prophetic, or just missing the point? Does any of it translate to what needs doing here in the West? Or is the Punk Prayer inspiration rather than example?

But it’s the performance equivalent of a single, not an album track. (Alyokhina has also written a book, which may go into more detail.) And punk was all about single-like immediacy, coming on as a shock to the system, assuming it was pressing down on a society whose heart had stopped beating.

The Con Club, Lewes, Sat 18th Nov

It’s been five years since I last saw The Men They Couldn’t Hang, though a full thirty-three years since their formation. (Not counting the part of the Nineties where they were out of action.) By now they really should be called The Men They Still Couldn’t Hang. And it may be true they’ve not changed their tune much over the years, remaining in the folk/roots/rock/punk vortice. There’s new songs, but they stick to the style of the old ones.

But here that becomes positive thing. They’ve kept their rough-edged choral singing, added a sawing violin and so retained their ragged singalong unity. Their best-known track, the reflective ‘The Green Fields of France’, isn’t particularly representative. Their sound’s more the opposite of the marching fascist boots they sing of in ’Ghosts of Cable Street’. They’re similar to the Mekons but are less poetic, more immediate and streel-level. They sound, in the best possible way, like an unruly mob. And whose better at rabble-rousing than a rabble?

Their schtick was always about presenting history as something ongoing, not something which had happened but something you made and remade. (A powerful idea in the Eighties, when all was supposed to be so shinily new.) So they’d sing about the First World War one number and the Miners’ Strike the next. Which makes it slightly strange to think that both of those events are now part of history.

But, less than a month after seeing Godspeed and commenting how political music mustn’t get stuck in a timewarp, there’s something appealing about this motley lot’s sheer resilient obstinancy. It’s like that scene in kung fu films where the hero, beset and waylaid by events, has to go back to his master and reorient himself. While everyone else is talking about demographics and chasing trends, let’s me and you stick to something...

’Iron Masters’, not from Lewes...

Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, Brighton, Thurs 26th Oct

The original Telescopes were a Nineties outfit, associated with shoegaze, signed (inevitably enough) to Creation records, whose output in all honestly I know not. But since 2010 frontman Stephen Lawrie has revived the name. A reformation gig with One Unique Signal was mentioned briefly… very briefly by me at the time.

Lawrie’s mid-gig claim “this is rock ‘n’ roll” was perhaps one of those post-ironic statements. For he’s pioneered a style of ‘shoegaze singing’ where he hunches over the mike, his moving around less dominating the stage and more finding a spot in the melee. The vocals aren’t high in the mix, and are sometimes merely screams. For his part the bassist often sat crosslegged on the floor. The band in general seem uninterested in the subject of the audience, like the event’s more outlet than performance, which is about as anti-rock ‘n’ roll as you can be.

Combined with the thumping noise rock, twin guitarists and bassist locked into metronomic riffs, their individual sounds indistinguishable. It’s like listening to an introverted explosion, full of power yet not pressing outwards. One number is a freeform wail of feedback guitar and effects pedals, like something from the midsts of ‘Tago Mago’.

On individual tracks they ratchet up the intensity to the max, then find that elusive eleven on the dial. But, alas, equipment problems distract from the start of the gigt and they then don’t play for long enough. And this is music which needs to draw on you. First you spy it from far away, as if through a telescope, then it’s gravity takes a slow inexorable hold of you. (See what I did there?) As it was it felt like a taster, leaving you with a feeling of a nail there to be struck but not quite nailed.

The garage psych of support band Has A Shadow should also be mentioned in dispatches. Rather than provide swirls and flourishes, the keyboards punch out the beat. The lines are so insistently repetitive the player could keep her eyes closed throughout, and mostly does so. While squalls of effects-driven guitars swell around her. They use the slow lurching tempos of the Fall, like a lumbering giant staggering drunk, leaving you feeling mesmerically trapped in the headlights of the advancing track.

From Liverpool, with cool freak-out op-art lightshow absent from Brighton...

...and speaking of One Unique Signal...

Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, Brighton, Sat 4th Nov

Described by Wikipedia as noise rock, and though a mere four-piece (guitar, bass, drums and a Throbbing Gristle-like cornet), with heavy utilisation of multiple effects pedals and justgeneral heaviness this band throws up a big sound.

But the noise tag’s not quite right, for they specialise in those catchy riffs which while bass-driven almost double as melodies. Imagine if New Order had early on decided to abandon songs for stretched-out tracks, free-form at the same time as metronomic. The (very) brief occasions they go in for vocals, they are in that intonatory early New Order style.

Stage presence seems less a concern than it did for the Telescopes. At times they get so busy with effects pedals feet become inadequate for the purpose and they hunch over them heads bowed and hands raised. Individual tracks are long and slowbuilding. All of which adds to the time it takes for the music to draw you in. But draw you in it does…

There’s a spaciousness and a remorselessness to it which reminds me of when films drift slowly around dilapidated buildings. It’s often a feature of good bands that they can drag you into their own timezone, so when the gig’s over the return to the regularly paced world is jolting.

Another light show us Brightonians didn’t get…

Coming soon! Yes, really... more gig-going adventures!

Saturday 18 November 2017


Attenborough Centre For the Creative Arts, Falmer, Sat 11th Nov

Before the review proper, two quite hefty caveats. Factory Floor found themselves unable to perform their soundtrack live as originally intended, through circumstances which may well have been unavoidable. But rather than offering ticket-holders either refund or discount, the venue instead promised a fiver off a future show. None of which I’ve any interest in seeing. I’d have probably still gone had a refund been offered, but that was the thing to do in the circumstances.

Then, only after the film began, did it become clear it was being shown without English subtitles. (Yes, I do know the story. Not the point.) I imagined at the time that must have been an affectation of the band’s, perhaps some notion of ‘authenticity’. But YouTube footage (clip below) shows them performing to a subtitled version. Such shoddy behaviour probably wouldn’t put me off something I really wanted to see, but I’ll be avoiding ACCA for impulse purchases. Fool me twice, shame on you.

Dan O'Bannon famously said “I didn’t steal ’Alien’ from anywhere, I stole it from everywhere”. Similarly, as an early classic of science fiction cinema ’Metropolis’ (1927) hasn’t influenced anything so much as everything. It would be harder to find something, film or visual art, which didn’t bear it’s imprint to some degree. The maschinenmensch (as it’s called without subtitles) isn’t just the poster girl of the film but an icon of science fiction in general. She unsurprisingly featured in the Barbican’s recent science fiction exhibition.

And it’s a film whose meaning is on the surface, residing in it’s images rather than the somewhat haphazard plot. Nevertheless, for the few who don’t know... protagonist Freder, despite being the son of the “Master”, resolves to explore the lower depths of the titular future city. In this way he’s quite an Orwellian figure, a toff who doesn’t plonk flags on distant lands but ventures into the parts of his own society he’d normally be kept away from. Certainly, he explains his motives with “I wanted to look into the faces of the people whose little children are my brothers, my sisters.” And by co-incidence, Orwell’s experiences which came to be written up as ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’, though not published till ‘33, were pretty much contemporary to this.

On the other hand he may just be mindful he’s talking to his father here, for he actually goes to the Lower City chasing a girl. In fact he’s something of an Alice, with Maria his ever-out-of-reach white rabbit. He spends much of his time wandering through a world incomprehensible to him. There’s a repeated motif of him staggering a few steps forwards, magnetised by some new sight, then stumbling to a bewildered halt. He’s beset by visions, which at one point leave him bed-ridden. Only in the third act does he switch into a more conventional heroic role. For most of the time he’s less do-er than witness. And in many ways our reaction, both to city and film, is his.

Let’s pull back slightly, to that much-celebrated opening montage. It’s largely effective because it makes clear ’Metropolis’ is primarily about Metropolis. To paraphrase the Red Queen, all the ways around the city belong to the city itself. The montage suggests it’s less architecture than mechanism, moving to a clockwork order. Later it seems that the cars that cross the high carriageways are themselves part of the machine, stopping as abruptly as it does, like it’s all some life-size diorama. Most of these workings are invisible to it’s population, or at least to the top-dwelling toffs, like the pipes and wires in our homes are hidden from our view. But it’s laid bare to the viewer from the start.

Like that earlier German silent classic ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’, ‘Metropolis’ could be said to use the artifice of cinema to convey the alienation of the contemporary urban environment. The workers are shown as ancillary to their machines, shuffling to and from shifts as if on a production line themselves. Fredersen may be the city’s “Master”, his office holding a commanding view. But it’s so large, it’s doors not just oversize but with handles absurdly high, it’s as if he’s trying to sport a suit too big for him. He issues commands, but is more often taken by surprise by events.

As part of this machine motif clocks, dials, maps, diagrams and numbers are everywhere. And yet there’s also hallucinations, catacombs, cathedrals and an ending borrowed pretty much wholesale from ’The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ (1923). Freder’s frequent hallucinations, rather than being delineated as Hollywood flashbacks would, permeate their surroundings until the whole film becomes a phantasmagoria. The frequent montages enable their spread. Despite the setting characters don’t wear the futuristic tunics we now expect from science fiction but contemporary clothes. They even drive contemporary cars, as if in an achronic dream where realities are jumbled up.

In the famous sequence where Freder takes over a worker’s shift the task (pointing clock arms at alternately lit bulbs) seems less purposeful labour and more fairground game. On release, no less than HG Wells accused it of “muddleness about mechanical progress and progress in general.” But he was forcing his own expectations on the film, then lambasting it for his failure to make them stick.

For, and again like ‘Dr Caligari’, beneath the futuristic surface it’s a self-consciously Gothic story. The workers have their own city “deep below the earth’s surface”. (No, not quarters. Their own underground city.) But beneath those lie the catacombs. And Metropolis is portrayed as but the reprise of Babylon, doomed to relive it’s doom. (The film evokes then plays fast and loose with the Biblical Babylon, but then that tale had become a folk meme long before.) All of which enables the Gothic tropes of the present never truly overwriting the past and the ego never truly overcoming the id, made manifest by the rising waters which flood the workers’ city.

The two collide most clearly in Rotwang, deranged inventor and villain of the piece. He’s the most pro-active character in the film, certainly more than the witness Freder, the so-called Master or the counsellor of inaction Maria. Yet, in a typical paradox, he hasn’t built this city but instead plans to destroy it. His activity he uses disruptively. His house isn’t at all futuristic but like a cottage from a folk tale, complete with pentagram on the door. When Freder is trapped there, it seems to happen more by magic than science. The trapdoor it contains, allowing him to pass between the levels of the city, make him quite a shamanic figure. In some ways his role is similar to the Joker’s in ’Dark Knight’, he arrives late to the film and seems set on systematically wrecking anything and everything around him.

He plans to achieve this, naturally enough, by building a robot duplicate of the saintly Maria – in order to lead the workers astray. The sheer bizarreness of the machine Maria being the sexy one is played up as she dances at the Yoshiwara club, actor Brigitte Helm giving her exaggerated hyper-sexualised movements at the same time as strange jerks of the head. These seem at the same time deeply weird and uncannily prophetic of modern pop videos. (Wikipedia lists videos by Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Lady Gaga as directly influenced by her.) 
The strangeness is perhaps exceeded only by the burning of a bad robot at the stake.

‘Metropolis’ is very much an industrial era film, it’s mighty mechanical parts issuing great flurries of steam stemming from a time where machinery genuinely risked exploding. Whereas the score is provided by electronica outfit Factory Floor, described by Wikipedia as post-industrial. Even their name recalls Factory Records which, as every post-punk trainspotter knows, was named after all the contemporary “factory closing down” signs.

Yet that becomes precisely what makes the soundtrack so effective. It’s a cliché of course to claim electronic music is “about alienation”, but then cliches are often like coins made grubby from too much handling - a little polishing can bring back their shine. But more importantly its ‘haunted machine’ aesthetic contains hints of human voices and traces of more conventional instruments, violins from Venus.

Hollywood devices, such as giving each character their motif, would be worse that useless here. If this soundtrack was a character from the film it would either be the city itself or Rotwang, with his one human and one robot hand. It’s also quite unperformative, frequently unafraid to be repetitive when that’s enough to evoke the required mood. At the end, rather than finish on a flourish it slowly ebbs away, in fact lasting longer than many in the audience.

Alas, however, there’s times where it falls into disco beats. Which are not only intrusive but way too rock video, making the film appear some Gothic dystopian version of ‘Jailhouse Rock’. The end of the second act particularly suffered from these. At which point I feared for the finale, though happily that worked much better.

(Admittedly, I may have baggage here. I endured the period where it was only possible to see this film via the 1984 Giorgio Moroder version, with Freddie Mercury and Bonnie Tyler warbling away over it. Which seemed a worse fate than not being able to see it at all.)

It’s possibly a mark of the effectiveness of the soundtrack that I saw the film so much through it’s filter. (Seeing it un-subtitled may also hold a sway, pushing you away from the plot to see the film as a cascade of images. Even if it’s pretty much like that anyway.) And, perhaps unsurprisingly for our times, that filter filters out much of its political implications.

...and there we might have left it. Yet the film continued to marinate around in my brain. So please consider the rest of this review an optional extra after Factory Floor left the building...

On release, it was not just re-cut but, by altering the inter-titles, rescripted to remove allegedly communist sympathies. While Goebbles lauded the film, claiming it heralded how "the political bourgeoisie is about to leave the stage of history.” Which seems particularly bizarre in retrospect. The ordered, autocratic world of ’Metropolis’ seems to us more a warning of the incoming fascist regime than a commentary on its contemporary Weimar world. Had it been a truly fascist film surely Freder would have deposed his weak-willed Father, and ruled by imposing his will but on the workers’ behalf. Was Goebbles simply engaged in the typical fascist activity of territorial annexation?

The workers are shown to be not just enlisted but themselves destroyed by the forces of production, as much fuel as they are parts. Bad Maria has a point when she says “Who is the living food for the machines in Metropolis - ? Who lubricates the machine joints with their own blood - ? Who feeds the machines with their own flesh - ? Let the machines starve, you fools - ! Let them die - ! Kill them - the machines - !” This in itself is a genuinely communist statement, for all that it’s wrapped up in Gothic trappings. But then how are those workers depicted?

Unsurprisingly the good/bad Marias are included in TV Tropes’ examples of the Madonna Whore complex. (Though, for some reason, bad Maria doesn’t make the cut for Evil is Sexy.) But, at their beck and call of both Marias, the workers effectively take up the same dichotomy. They either sacrifice themselves to the machines (literalised in Freder’s vision) or destroy them in a deranged frenzy, oblivious to the warning that this means destroying themselves.

Crowds are a mass of bodies reduced to a single head. (And someone should really compare Bad Maria’s suggestive stirring up of the workers to Lenin’s speechifying in ’October.’) Class revolt is reduced to brute urges. Could the workers could use the machines for their own ends, or make their own machines more to their liking? Not something which come up.

And how does the film end? With the phrase “HEAD and HANDS need a mediator. THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN HEAD AND HANDS MUST BE THE HEART!” (The film’s capitals.) Fredersen's problem is not that he’s autocratic or exploits the workers, but that he’s remote, unknowing and hence uninterested. But Freder, now he’s visited the workers’ city, can be that mediator. Society doesn’t need reorganising, the body politic just requires pulling together. Now we can all get along.

And for a film with such a strange love-hate relationship to machines, this patented fix is very mechanistic. For the thing to work all the parts need to be synched up. The main machine set, the one we see the workers destroy, is even called the Heart machine – as if one heart replaces another.

So the slightly less exciting answer is that the film is neither communist nor fascist but mainstream social democratic. Yet it was made in a time when communism was still making its presence felt. Revolution was not the threat it had been a decade earlier, but strong workers’ organisations persisted. So the film becomes like a magic spell where the workers rise up only to be assuaged, the more likely for that to be the result in real life. But its understanding of communism is equivalent of mine to German inter-titles – a pidgin communism, inadequate to the point of parodic. It’s seen as little more than the cry for help from the attempted suicide, filtered through some fear of the crowd.

And it’s precisely the engagement with this pidgin form of communism which makes the film so attractive to fascism. Fascism only came to power in countries with strong worker’s movements. It’s in essence a spoiler product for revolution, which must always dress it’s anti-revolutionary essence in revolutionary clothing. Goebbles’ quote above makes that perfectly clear. (Scriptwriter Thea von Hourben later embraced the Nazis, proving how easy was the slippage.)

And those references to the body politic as a metaphor for social cohesion, particularly when phrased in terms of calls to the workers, though here social democratic in expression – they hand some of that clothing to fascism. Having to take up some of the more formal aspects of communism while opposing it’s content, that effectively left fascism without a content. 

As Gilles Dauve commented “It's significant that fascism defined itself first as a form of organisation and not as a program. Its only program was to unite everyone into fasces, to force together all the elements making up society.” A Nazi speechmaker once genuinely said: "We don't want lower bread prices, we don't want higher bread prices, we don't want unchanged bread prices—we want National Socialist bread prices!"

Fascism is the fetishisation of unity masquerading as a programme. And Freder’s well-intentioned interventions in visiting the Lower City, they would help pave it’s path.

The classic montage opening (note, ACCA, with subtitles)…

Saturday 11 November 2017


...this time off Brighton's London Road. This is the second time the full set has been uploaded to 500px, after Yahoo turned out to be a bunch of thieving bastards. Main drawback so far... which seems quite a big one... is that it uploads your pictures in a random order. Previously, I'd numbered the pics before uploading, then deleted the numbers once they were up. 500px seems to delete the numbering itself, which would be fine if it didn't then ignore the order. You can rearrange them yourself, but that's clunky and time-consuming. I tried to Google a fix for this, but only found more people complaining it couldn't be done.

Coming soon! More gig-going adventures...

Saturday 4 November 2017


Brighton Dome, Mon 23rd Oct

After me telling everyone who would listen that Godspeed had reached their apogee through ditching the pseudo-classicism for greater sonic adventurism, they’ve come out with their most classical album yet! ‘Luciferian Towers’ stays on the same post-hiatus roll as it’s predecessors, but seems much more influenced by at least the non-rock music sometimes umbrella-termed as ‘classical’. You can hear Morricone in ’Anthem For No State’ and perhaps even a touch of Gershwin in the title track.

As is their wont, they play a near two hour set which includes the new album in full. Though it’s probably significant that their last two releases have been their shortest. (Forty and forty-four minutes respectively.) To generalise more than a little, much early Godspeed seemed primarily about dynamics so required duration to make it’s moves in. Expansiveness was its home turf. Whereas the new tracks go a lot further in less space, do more in less time.

‘Fam/Famine’, for example, starts with a violin and double bass duet that could come from a recital. But the other instruments slowly pour in, overcoming the distinct melodic lines, like the sea breaching and dissolving a sandcastle. It’s one of the band’s most serene tracks. Though at other points they use more popular music devices, such as locking some instruments in a holding pattern and moving others around them.

The two old tracks of their last appearance is now down to one - ‘BBF3’ off ‘Slow Riot’. And, though the tour setlist seems to have varied a little from night to night, that’s a pattern they pretty much held to. 
Which, to be honest, still seems one too many for me. Pastures new are so much richer, it makes me wonder if they feel obliged to retain at least one of the taped spoken word sections they used to be so known for.

The accompanying film show (projected as they’re always keen to point out, by a full band member) starts with the word “Hope”, passes through industrial, natural and abstract scenes before ending up with riot footage. Which is reminiscent of the “grand demands” which accompanied the new album’s press release. And yet despite such anarchist affiliations, their shows couldn’t be any less like those hardcore or anarcho-punk gigs of old. By chance a friend was on security that night, who confessed afterwards that from a crowd control standpoint the night was such a non-event she nearly fell asleep.

But there’s a reason for that, in fact quite a good one. People are keen to pin many and seemingly contradictory labels on the band – funereal, anthemic, apocalyptic, euphoric – that perhaps we should stop trying to sort them out and see that as the point. As said after the last gig: “You're never sure whether Godspeed's tumultuous sound is of something collapsing or being built up, or even if there's that much difference between the two.”

The late Sixties might have been the last time songs could come over as genuinely insurrectionary - ‘Volunteers’, ‘Five To One’ and all the rest. Even by the punk days, like adulterated street speed, the agitation was already being cut with nihilism. True, corners of anarcho-punk kept up the “rise up” rhetoric. But that just confirmed what bubble worlds they lived in, their sound and fury signifying nothing.

Whereas the music of Godspeed, grandeur combined with ambiguity, perhaps sums up our era. All we can be sure of is that things cannot possibly stay the same, our only certainty the lack of certainty. What happens next we may not know until it’s upon us. As the band themselves said in a Guardian interview: “We're at a particular junction in history where it's clear that something has to give: problem is that things could tip any which way. We're excited and terrified.” 

The gig poster I associate with the lightning-struck Tower of the Tarot, transferred to suburbia. The projected word ‘Hope’ which starts the show is not rendered in the big block letters of the Obamacists’ favourite poster. It looks like it’s been crudely scratched into a wall. The image of it is flickering, tentative.

In another of the aspects of the Sixties which now seems strange to us, musicians were seen as figureheads if not leaders. Whereas Godspeed are almost anonymous, band members entering the stage one by one to add to a slow building drone, playing (as ever) in a circle in near-darkness, exiting without fanfare, never acknowledging the audience. The lyrics, the place from where the rallying calls came to be made, are entirely absent. True there is something post-modern to it all. It seems less new music than setting existing music in new forms, but perhaps some of that is inevitable. It’s tumultous music for tumultuous times.

And if you take to this, part of ’Bosses Hang’ from Glasgow…

…you may like this. The full show from Rennes…

The Haunt, Brighton, Fri 27th Oct

Wire were among the most archetypical of the British post-punk bands; inscrutably cool, rigorously impatient of cliché and the done-before, dismissive of excess, ceaselessly intellectually curious, firing out furiously nonsensical lyrics seemingly plundered from a Dadaist’s scrapbook, passionate and dispassionate in equal measure. We in Lucid Frenzy HQ have been lucky enough to see them three times before, and blogged about them twice.

Now it seems they’ve somehow reached their fortieth anniversary. (Well, discounting a five-year hiatus in the Eighties.) Though they have a new album out, ’Silver/Lead’, such is the breadth of musical ground they cover I figure they must be turning the occasion over to their history. In fact, a post-gig perusal of setlist sites suggest they do play a fair few new songs. Whichever, anyone caught claiming guitar music to be inherently limited should have been forced to attend one of their gigs, the better to taste his own words.

True, such eclecticism doesn’t always pay off. As said of their Albert appearance two and a half years ago, some of the more recent material has shown indie tendencies. Admittedly quirky indie, never descending to the Teenage Fanclub level, but indie nonetheless. At one point frontman Colin Newman proudly introduces a track as from the least liked Wire album, and alas it matches the description. But such moments are exception not rule.

The early tracks are the easiest to spot, short sharp shocks, leaping into action like tight-wound springs set loose. But there’s also two quite psychedelic numbers played back to back, where the guitars somehow manage to sound sharp and phased at the same time.

The main set ends with a powerful, extended riff-driven track, every iteration of it like another layer of sandpaper rubbing at your ears, the punch of hard rock with none of the chest-puffing stuff, before breaking into a freeform freakout as the stage lights dim. But perhaps the significant thing about Wire, in a similar way to the Ex, is the way they can explore so many different styles while still sounding just like themselves. Happy Fortieth!

Not from anywhere near Brighton…