Saturday, 1 September 2018


Concorde 2, Brighton, Thurs 23rd Aug

So I finally catch up with Ozomatli live, even if it took their twentieth anniversary tour for Mr. Tardy here to do it. Describing the band’s actually easy for once, as they’ve done it themselves and it’s even placed upfront on their Wikipedia page. Locating their sound in their native Los Angeles, they say:

’You drive down Sunset Boulevard and turn off your stereo and roll down your windows and all the music that comes out of each and every different car, whether it's salsa, cumbia, merengue, or Hip Hop, funk or whatever, it's that crazy blend that's going on between that cacophony of sound is Ozomatli, y’know?”

As band members ceaselessly swap instruments the shifts and turns in musical style make for a gig that always feels like it’s being propelled forward, while always coming across as organic and arising from the players rather than being self-consciously eclectic.

They have a reputation as a political outfit, initially intending to form (I kid not) a workers’ union. This doesn’t much come over live, bar the occasional quick intro to a song. It does seem a little strange to find that a band best known for their live shows should omit what seems an integral element. But then there is something appealing about music that’s political and good-timey. Given the state of things, there’s plenty to be angry about and of course we have a right to that anger. But we’ve got the right to celebrate resistance as well.

Though it’s quite a different style of music, the gig echoes something I came across when seeing Goat, 
unrelenting energy levels; “The gig's pretty much at… fever pitch the whole way through. They're quite unrelentingly up.” In fact so irrepressible is the band’s spirit, that when a phantom hum invades the PA they decide what key it’s in, and instantly start jamming around it. Complete with a vocal which plaintively wonders “where could that hum be coming from?” It actually proves a highlight of their set, so maybe they should request hums more often.

For the closer, as I believe is a tradition of their shows, they pick up their gear and relocate to various points in the auditorium. As they moved they’d trail audience members behind then, snaking in a great conga.

A slightly random clip, but a good one of the band on home turf…

Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, Brighton, Mon 27th Aug

Qujaku are self-described as “Japanese rock band [playing] psychedelic gothic dark shoe gaze [with] post rock vibes”, and are fronted (slightly inexplicably) by a lookalike for late Seventies Bowie.

They seem to wait before starting up, as if channelling something. They then go into a slow, soundscapey intro with a bowed… uh, bowed something and rung bells. Though the thumping riffs then drop, this intro kind of permeates the rest of the gig and gives proceedings a ritual feel.

Riffs are somewhat like houseguests. They’re going to stick around for a while, so you want to be sure not to pick the wrong one. Qujaku display a talent for finding mantra riffs, the sort of riff you want to hear over and over again. Their riff repository is also satisfyingly varied, from the slow and pounding to the agitated.

But they’re also adept at curveballing riffs, first getting them white-hot and then bending them into different shapes. At such points the second guitarist then turns back to the bowing or starts to pound a drum. It’s the upside of heavy riffing married to the upside of post-rock, giving a shot to your reptile and a stimulus to your Cro-Magnon brain.

The Bowie lookalike concludes the noise-fest by blowing a kiss to the assembled throng. Slightly inexplicably. In a good way.

The only real drawback of the set - and I know I always say this - is that there wasn’t enough of it. These aren’t short, snappy songs, the numbers are like potions you need to leave stewing in the cauldron awhile. But, with two support acts, they played for less than an hour. Bands have a natural set length determined by their music, which can’t be reduced to a meaningless mean. Sunn O))) played for two hours, 
which didn’t seem too long. Qujaku don’t necessarily need that sort of length, but they operate on timescales which take more than an hour.

This vid starts just as the intro section ends…

Cafe Oto, London, Fri 31st Aug

So next I was off to see a gig dominated by electronic hums and pulses. If Ozomatli had intruded with their Latino-tuned trumpets, the circle would have been completed. But they must have been busy elsewhere…

To try and explain Tim Shaw by a distinction, he’s quiet different to Cosmo Sheldrake, 
who assigned samples the respective roles of instruments. In fact Sahw's set did not, I don’t think, include any musical samples. But it did, I think, include organic sounds, albeit heavily treated. The effect become more like coloured shapes on various pieces of transparency paper, being shifted, shuffled and overlaid in different combinations. It produces new shapes and colours, until you’ve forgotten what you started off with.

Shaw’ set wasn’t divided into movements, as in classical music, but passed through distinct sections. While Phill Niblock performed five quite separate pieces, even if he ran them all together. Though there are those who claim this music to be samey, each piece was quite distinct in character. (Some more than others, as we’ll get onto.)

Despite each piece inevitably being shorter, they were much slower to evolve - at times feeling like their evolution was happening in Darwinian time. Duration became part of the experience.

His music’s comprised of murky drones and rumbles he refers to collectively as “tones”. Each one seems straightforward in itself, though blurry at the edges. It’s in the interchange between then at the magic happens, as subtle shifts come to have magnified effects. It all seems poised at the borderline between the liminal and subliminal, where you can’t quite perceive what he’s doing.

Where people go wrong, I think, is assume this is some sonic backdrop, an aural mulch out of which flowers will appear if you wait. But it’s in that ‘backdrop’ where it all happens. The metaphor of stepping into a darkened room, and the initial monotone revealing more and more shades and distinctions the longer you stay, I’ve used that many times by this point. But it’s the best metaphor I can think of, so it’s getting recycled again!

As often with drone-based music, what sounds rough and atonal can tip over into the serene. In fact in his second piece this was given centre stage, and the effect was quite tranquil. The music seemed to shimmer rather than move. Some of those tones may even have started life as notes - yes, actual notes!

But it was the fourth piece which was the densest, and perhaps the most rewarding. Broad rumbles provided perhaps not a backdrop but a surround for sharper sounds. It became like a sandpaper raga.

These four pieces already lasting over an hour, I figured we’d had our lot. Yet Niiblock started a fifth. It commenced with rumbles so low, so faint they could have been coming from the next room. Fifteen minutes later, with the room now mostly empty, I started to wonder whether this was going anywhere after all, and cut my losses. Are those that persevered still there now? We may never know.

Nibloch, who started as a film-maker, normally plays to a film show. Apart from the somewhat eccentric closer, this was the night’s only weak point. Reportage film of what looked like South Sea Islanders was too distinct, too of something to work with the more mysterious, suggestive music. (And yes, with Johanna Bramli I liked the visual but not the music - truly, there’s no fully pleasing me!) Before the show, a series of stills which looked to be from the same source were flashed up. With their merest hints of narrative connection, they may have worked better than a continuous film.

Precisely what makes this music appealing is precisely what makes it challenging to review. If you heard these pieces at different times, you’d not just react differently you’d quite likely actually hear them in a different way. The effect becomes individual and introspective.

Again, a fairly random clip. But again, worth watching…

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