Saturday, 20 October 2018


O2 Arena, Shepard’s Bush, London

Having spent the day in London, I arrived at the venue an hour before the doors opened. To discover a queue already so long it was taxing security’s ingenuity over where to put us all. With many folk who seemed to have travelled from foreign parts just to be there.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s been over three years since “everyone's favourite hallucinatory cuneiform super-group” (as they style themselves) played London, while Nurse With Wound barely perform live at all. (One between-gig gap lasted twenty-one years. I once considered a trip to Glasgow just to catch them.) The two together is pretty much the dream ticket for us post-industrial obsessives.

Nurse With Wound began with some inspired shaking and rattling. Only main man Steven Stapleton seemed to be playing anything electronic, everyone else in the ensemble has an actual or extemporised instrument. From what little I could tell, at least part of what he was doing was treating the other players until you could no longer tell the ‘real’ sounds from the processed. Always an effective way of achieving the uncanny.

From there they went into something more like ambient funk. This developed as it went on, and it was very much a buzz to see people dancing to NWW. Though it was the most conventional part of their set. But then… If generally thought of as specialising in Dadaist sound collage, in practice they’re more unpredictable than that. They’d started off like an improvising troupe, working off and around each other. (Not unlike their actual origins as a trio.) But they became a band, with an effective rhythm section. A very off-kilter band, true, but still a very effective one.

Beneath a fractured lead guitar the rhythm was lurching but firmly controlled, like a great beast familiar with and able to utilise its own weight. It made me wonder where that dumb cliche ever came from, where pre-punk bands got dissed as dinosaurs. If dinosaurs had made music it would have been awesome, and this could well be our living proof.

Their final number was, formally speaking, more familiar - electronic beats with weirdness piled up on top of them. But the beats were so relentlessly menacing and the weird sounds so weird it transcended any sense of formula. It points to the problem in spatial phrases such as ‘edgy’, which suggest you require a norm to react against. Stapleton’s been following his own pulse since ’79, and there could be years yet to come.

As with their last outing, Current 93’s set was the new release, ’The Light Is Leaving Us All’, in track order. Front man (and sole constant) David Tibet’s speciality may be song suites rather than individual tracks, disregarding all that ‘end of the album’ chatter. (The merch stall was doing a brisk trade in vinyl.) And as usual he’d completely shifted the line-up, with only two players reappearing. (Reinier van Houdt and Ossian Brown.)

With the last album/gig I’d thought of them as a jazz cabaret act double-booked with a left-field experimental troupe, playing aboard a schooner sailing into the night. Whereas this was more a return to the earlier album ’Of Ruine or Some Blazing Starr’, described as “courtly” by David Keenan in his splendid and essential history of post-industrialism. But there was also a hefty dose of folk pastoralism, with folk artist Alasdair Roberts stepping in on guitar and snatches of birdsong peppering the set.

Some while ago, I found midwinter to be the most fitting time to see Sigur Ros, when light has become a rare and precious substance. Similarly, this time of year – when the light still shines but a chill is rising – was the right time to first hear this album. Virtually the opening line is “the shutters shut dark”, with “the light is leaving us all” reiterated on each and every number. (Pitchfork are probably correct the album started with the title.) In fact as I’ve been striding through these low-sunned, leaf-littered Autumn days the phrase has kept running round in my brain. Let’s remember Autumn’s original name was the rather more religious Fall. But still, that’s setting rather than theme…

With folksy song titles such as ’The Postman’s Singing’ and ’The Kettles’ On’, Tibet’s perennial theme of the end of all things gets applied to provincial England. Which might sound like that thing where you juxtapose the horrific with the childlike. (You know the sort of thing. “Dude, it’s a kid’s cartoon character with like a hatchet in her head! Bodacious!”) Of course this is nothing so trite. 

As Aimee Armstrong puts it in the Quietus “Tibet’s music is very English and is primarily concerned with a queering of this supposedly idyllic landscape.” And “queering” is very much the right word here, rather than “despoiling” or “rending”. Is Tibet coming along and unsettling that folk pastoralism, or just revealing what was queered to start with? If we knew, he’d be doing something wrong.

Just like the band historically travelled from noisy industrial soundscapes to neofolk like there was no real border to cross, the music here morphs between one state and the other as if defying you to spot the join. In their world one thing is always found in the other. The present-tense title suggests an ongoing process, rather than a sudden event. The poster and CD image, which might initially seem to depict possession, are demonstrated to convey the opposite - mapping the soul’s departure via the light leaving the eyes.

The highlights were high indeed. The keyboards would pummel and the violin and hurdy-gurdy drone like the Velvet Underground had been reincarnated as an English folk band. But overall the set seemed uneven, straying too far into the straight folk pastoralism. The first time I saw this band, I found it too overwhelming to take in. This time, there were parts I waited out. Bizarrely, given the long queue to get in, a fair section of the audience had decamped before the end.

At the time I assumed the album must have it’s share of sameyness, a default setting it needed to rise above. But, listening to it afterwards, it’s actually consistently strong - in fact I’ve been listening to it as intently as I did ’Field That Fell’.Partly it may be that the previous venue, the Union Chapel, suited the band better than a regular rock haunt. (Current 93 isn’t Saturday night music. Even if it is Saturday night.) But perhaps the action of playing the songs through blunted some of their individual idiosyncrasies, even if they’re made to be heard together.

A brief snatch of Nurse With Wound…

…plus C93’s opening two tracks (which I’ve tried to wind to the point they actually start, if it doesn’t work for you jump ahead past the four minute mark)…

…. and finally, the ‘video’ (actually just the film backdrop, but still cool) for ’Bright Dead Star’…

The Haunt, Brighton, Thurs 18th Oct

It might sound arbitrary to start out by comparing Bo Ningen to the last band I saw in this venue, especially if I admit upfront they don’t sound anything like each other. While Preoccupations’ sound is haunted, Bo Ningen’s is most definitely spirited. But both not only switch between guitars and keyboards, they modify everything to the point where it’s hard to tell one instrument from another. Which leads to an enticing sense of off-kilterness, of nothing sounding quite what it seems.

My previous reviews seemed happy to label them a psychedelic/acid rock band, something their Wikipedia page says they don’t understand. True, at times they sound like Hawkwind’s space rock, or Sabbath’s ponderous heavy riffing. Though formed in London the band’ are all Japanese by birth and there’s many Japanoise elements, such as the furiously barked vocals.

But they also take in dub, with one highly dub-drenched track, and for another number stripped-down, urgent funk. They come across as a band with their own style, but who are ever-restless in the expression of it, never falling into a pattern. Young fellows all, they look to be another band exhibiting the upside of the YouTubeability of music. Rather than cleave to one genre and hone it, the natural tendency is to take everything that catches your interest and throw it all in together. They describe themselves as “fusing disparate sounds and influences into a fierce, eclectic torrent of grooves”, something they live up to.

The psychedelic part comes from their devotion to sonic bombardment and sensory overload. Guitars sound like they need to be cranked up, like old cars, somehow got overwound and are now shooting off all over the place. The finale’s a brain-melting wig-out. Which maybe went on a little too long, but was the way to end their set.

Graeme Virtue in the Guardian calls them “the Mothras of invention,” a tag so apt I’m now going to pretend I said it.

Not from Brighton…

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