Saturday, 8 September 2018


The Green Door Store, Brighton, Thurs 6th Sept

Comprised of two cellos and a double bass, the basis of the Brain Dead Ensemble is drone-like strumming. Never a bad thing in the book of Lucid Frenzy. But, while never really breaking from that basis, they could throw the strangest things into the mix. At the time I had assumed the chap on laptop was live-processing the sounds, but it seems the three players were doing this themselves. As they explain...

“Two feedback cellos a feedback bass and a Threnoscope are plugged together to form a multi-instrument, multi-channel system. The feedback cellos and bass are DIY electro-acoustic-digital resonator instruments. Each instrument has pickups under each of its strings and transducers built into the acoustic instrument body, inducing electromagnetically-controlled feedback which can be digitally processed.”

(I hope someone else followed that. Me, they could have just said “because of magic”.) It leads to a visual as well as a sonic beguiling, you naturally expect standard-looking instruments to come up with standard sounds, and when they don’t that adds to the overall eerie effect. It sounded simultaneously a force of nature which would never end, and an ever-evolving and absolutely unpredictable series of shifts and changes. 

You soon didn’t feel like you were in the room listening to the music but were inside the music, with the room not reappearing till the end. At one point the strings seemed accompanied by organ swells which were almost churchy.

The Threnoscope, from what I gather, was providing a visual infographic of the music in real time. As coloured segments shifted and floated around inside concentric circles, I wasn’t really sure how it mapped the music, but that might not matter. Not being any kind of timeline, but more capturing moment-to-moment transitions, it caught the immediate spirit of the music. As well as the Ensemble’s… well, ensemble nature. As they put it, “No one is in control, although everyone is playing.”

And that Brian Dead part of the name? Though they don’t dress up as George Romero extras, it’s perfectly fitting. People seem strangely convinced dance music is the last possible word in anti-cerebralism, in abandon. Yet it’s based on keeping in time, which in practice means maths. Whereas this is the sort of music which most allows you to, in the time-honoured phrase, turn off your mind, relax and flat downstream.

This from an earlier gig of theirs…

Concorde 2, Brighton, Wed 5th Sept

With his brother RZA, GZA was for all intents and purposes the backbone of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan. And ‘Liquid Swords’, effectively a collaboration but released as his solo album, is often thought of the finest Wu-Tang releases, and even one of the finest albums of hip-hop.

It’s appeal may be in the combination of obsessiveness with crazy, an almost blistering intensity runs with a willingness to throw together different sonic elements which is recklessly cavalier.(Just as it lyrically shifts from street life scenes from Staten Island to metaphysical ruminations about God, literally without missing a beat.)

The only other Wu-Tang member I’ve seen was Ghostface Killah, 
whose performance was very. To this day I am not sure exactly how it was very, but I do know it was very. Possibly very very. GZA, conversely, was not very.

The counter to Ghostface Killah’s circus of guest stars, this was a stripped-down affair which focused on him. Yet he seemed an uninvolved figure, with even the talking to the audience business delegated to an MC. It as almost as if he’d become his own karaoke tribute.

It was very much a classic tracks set. (I’ve heard little from recent years, and still knew most of it.) Whether GZA no longer feels attached to those old numbers, or whether he’s simply not a live act is more than I can tell you.

Yet he seemed to go down a storm with everyone else. I can’t help but wonder sometimes if popular music has become heraldic. Seeing the main man from the Wu-Tang Clan has become like those holidaymakers who trek to Angkor Wat, take a quick selfie of themselves in front of it then head to the nearest bar. It’s bucket list living, not about enjoying the experience but being able to say you were there. Alternately, it may just be me who’s a grumpy old git. Either seems possible...

An engaged-seeming audience from Bristol…


  1. I still can't work out what I think of Wu-Tang. I have a ton of the CDs and yet the only ones which still sound really good, or at least as I good as I remember, are by Ghostface or ODB - with the rest, I start listening and then forget they're playing - even Liquid Swords and Cuban Linx. Maybe it's a phase I'm going through.

  2. I'm still loving 'Liquid Swords'! Is there a particular Ghostface recomendation?

  3. And have you ever seen them live, in any variation?

  4. Some video of The Green Door Store show:

    I think the Threnoscope was driving the other instruments - the start of the show the string instruments weren't playing, just Thor was hard at work doing something. And sound emerged.

  5. I never quite decide whether I want to know how music like that is made, or whether I prefer it being some kind of holy mystery!