Friday 28 October 2022


Chalk, Brighton, Sun 23rd Oct

I last wrote about Dublin-based noise rock outfit Gilla Band after they appeared in this very venue six years ago, back in the days when things still went by the old names. They were then Girl Band, it The Haunt and my blog was… okay, some things never change. That was for their debut release and they’re now up to their third (‘Most Normal’). But its quality not quantity, innit?

Two Gillamen swap between guitars and electronics, though you’d be hard pressed to tell one from the other by sound alone. They can play audaciously stripped-back lines, sometimes just tones, colour fields not as serene Rothkos but shrieking hues.

Perhaps unusually for a noise-based band there’s a string dance music element, further evidence it shouldn’t all be seen as happy-clappy hedonism but willing to engage in sonic abrasion of its own volition. They’re professed fans of the Contortions, where No Wave cross-bred with disco. And the finale’s their storming cover of the Industrial Techno track ’Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?’. Last time they opened with it, and it’s effectively become their identifying song.

Which leaves the singer Dara Kiely often contributing the most melodic element. True, his penchant for frenzied Malcom Mooney-style madness mantras isn’t going to get him calls from Coldplay any time soon. (One lyric lists the various manufacturers of “shit clothes”.) But you could imagine more Death Grips-style vocals going with that music. He’s enough to keep them attached to something like regular rock music.

Famously they started out while still in secondary school, as an Indie band modelled on the Strokes. That’s never really quite gone away, and it serves them like a gift. Rather than flying off into free noise or falling back into white boy blues, they’re able to go further into what they were already doing, with greater and greater intensity.

None less than the Guardian called this new release a “turbulent masterpiece”. And it’s true that Kiely has been open about facing mental health problems, which he does seem to have used for musical inspiration. But at the same time it’s a common error to see music just as displaced autobiography, one which can steer you away from actual listening. And there’s a definite sense of humour to it all. Even if you missed it in Kiely’s lyrics it’s there in his voice.

Let’s compare them briefly to two other noise rock outfits who have showed up here. Show Me the Body had a much more angsty vibe, a sense that down these mean streets a power noise trio must strike up. While Lightning Bolt conveyed the sheer exhilarating thrill of throwing up a racket.

It would be temptingly easy to say Gilla Band exist in some midpoint between these two, like the Change UK of noise. But I don’t think they’re anything so fixed, they’re more able to straddle both spaces at once. Like the proverbial glass of water which can be half full and also half empty, all depending how you look at it.

Kiely was meet ‘n’ greeting the merch queue after the gig, demonstrating a highly Irish ability to treat a long line of strangers like long-lost friends. I made some quip to him about the meaning-defying lyrics. “I don’t know what they mean,” he replied, “but I believe in them.” And I think I probably do too.

From Leeds…

The Con Club, Lewes, Sun 16th Oct

The brainchild of double bassist Vincent Bertholet, Orchestre Tout Puissant (“All Powerful”) Marcel Duchamp “mix free jazz, post punk, high life, brass band, symphonic elements and kraut rock, [and] make a transcendental, almost ritualistic music.” They’re named part in tribute to great African ensembles, and in other part (of course) to the arch-Dadaist.

Not kidding about that Orchestre tag, quite remarkably they have more members than words in their name. The most recent release and publicity photos features twelve members, but I counted thirteen on stage, including double drummers, twin marimba players, electric guitar, strings and brass.

Though to my mind they’re more an ensemble than orchestra. There are times when they play with counter-rhythms. But mostly they use their amassed numbers to all leap upon a groove. Their credo being “the more the merrier”. There’s a few points where they allow a second’s pause before the full outfit kick in, perhaps not a new trick but an effective one. The result is a set which feels pretty much all highlights.

The vibe they give off is some Arkestra-like collective, who practice eleven hours every day at the commune and then take turns to stir a big pot of mung beans. But, for a Swiss-based band they seemed to have a fair few English members, including the two main singers. Most vocals were choral and harmonious, floating over the music. Their unshowy ‘unrocky’ nature gives it much of its engaging quality.

But also… one of those singers turned out to be Jo Burke, last seem singing a cappella folk songs in a Sussex field. Her declamatory open-tuned cry made perhaps a strange fit the the syncopated beats. I couldn’t say why it worked, but it sure seemed to.

There’s a virtuous combination between their constant inventiveness, where you have little to no notion what might be coming next, and the infectiously uplifting quality of it. Perhaps the ‘Marcel Duchamp’ and ‘Tout Puissant’ parts of their name represent those two elements. Probably not, but I like to think so. I can’t be sure, but I suspect that even I might have been smiling.

A slightly different (and don’t tell Rees-Mogg but less English) line-up to the UK tour, but still very much worth a watch…

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