Wagon and Horses, Birmingham, Saturday 28th 2009
Lash Frenzy vs Mort the Sonic
Iron Fist of the Sun
Cities Prepare for Attack
Noise and Power Electronics gigs aren’t normally known for their back slapping bon-honomie so the sight of a packed room singing ‘Happy Birthday’ at the conclusion of Saturday nights Con-Dom set was slightly surreal. It also gladdened the heart and will no doubt never be repeated. Saturday nights gig at the Wagon and Horses may have been organised to celebrate Wrasse Productions 15th ‘unbirthday’ but to all intents and purpose the reason why so many people travelled such great distances was to celebrate Mike Dando’s 50th. The man behind Con-Dom reaches the half century mark and people have turned out in numbers to pay their respects.
The venue is a stand alone glowing oasis of warmth and light in the wet and dark industrial fag end of Digbeth, a less than salubrious smear of run down businesses and garages on the outskirts of Birmingham where passers by were few and far between. The downstairs bar is lit by a roaring wood fire, the Guinness is on form and the punters are already piling in. A bent old man in a camel hair coat and flat cap arrives carrying two battered 1950’s suitcases. By now its chucking it down and he’s pissed wet through. He orders a half of bitter and stands drinking it at the bar, slowly drying out in front of the fire. Next to him are two six foot bald headed power electronic freaks covered in black ink and black clothes talking Genocide Organ and the merits [or lack of them] of CDR. Upstairs there’s so much equipment that its actually impinging on the floor space and its going to be eight hours before it all ends. It’s 6.30 and I’m probably drunk already.
Now I’m not going to give a detailed and individual account of who did what to whom and where but let me just say this; in all my years of going to these kinds of shows this was the first where I saw every act, heard every sound and most importantly, enjoyed every minute of it. From the moment that Cities Prepare for Attack laid an electric toothbrush onto a horizontal guitar and layered lots of Non like loops around it to the impromptu Grunt performance at the death I had a sloppy grin on my face thats taken two days to wipe off. Of course there was plenty of pushing and shoving and some folks did get upset during the Slogun and Con-Dom sets, I even saw a beer glass get chucked but it was all in good humour. Yes. I think you can chuck a beer glass in good humour. So long as its not aimed at someones head. Lash Frenzy and Mort the Sonic laid on a heavy bass guitar led noise drone rumble that was even more impressive once they’d completely filled the venue with dry ice and two flashing strobe lights. Other highlights were a noise based set from Ashtray Navigations [who were pumped up to a threesome for tonight], Putrefier gave his usual solid set with the noise guitar getting plenty of abuse, Sickness are as solid as it gets, floor clearing from Slogun, bodies everywhere and then a bare chested Con-Dom with Genocide Organ and Anti Child League support getting everyone jacked up. Grunt rounded things off using borrowed equipment but things were hazy by then, the Guinness had taken a hold. But I definitely did see someone strip off naked and dance about. If you weren’t there then you’ll just have to make do with the second hand stories that’ll no doubt be doing the rounds for years to come.
The previous night it was MEV playing their part in the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. I’ve been going the last three years to at least one night of the HCMF as there’s usually something worth catching. Last year it was Dror Fieler’s one hour blast-a-thon, the year before that, Cut and Splice with Randy Yau, Sudden Infant and The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. And if you thought making music with vegetabkles was boring then you need educating. The VVO made cabbage noise, played a Kraftwerk cover [Radiation] and a version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring that was both bold in execution, remarkable to watch and highly entertaining. The prices are a tad steep when you’re used to paying a tenner to see five bands in a small room above a pub but the venues are top notch and the sound reproduction is incredible. MEV were Alvin Curran, Fredric Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum and it was a rare pleasure to witness a group performing improvised music with such lightness of hand. They played for an hour utilising three open topped grand piano’s, samples from lap-tops, oranges bounced on piano strings, voice, bizarre flute like things all of it coalescing into one organic mass of flowing delight. About three minutes in what sounded like a mobile phone rang but of course it was them. Two minutes later a voice was heard saying ‘oh lets just start again’ but that was to fool you too. Three way hammered atonal piano work gave way to sublime passages of melancholy, noise, flies zapped in humane killers. At one point Rzewski stunned a female punter in the front row when he left his piano and asked her if he could have a drink from her flask. Whatever it was he liked it. They even came back for an enlightening Q&A session where Cage was quoted liberally and someone asked if there was a difference between sound and music. Curran said he preferred the sounds he heard outside his house to those played by people calling it ‘free music’.
November began with Colour Out of Space in Brighton. Getting shunted back from its September slot proved to be blessing when the Indian Summer arrived. The sight of people sat outside pubs in t-shirts at the beginning of November was a bizarre one but a welcome one at that. After getting solidly drenched last year it made a decent change to be able to socialise in a climate that didn’t resemble Tierra Del Fuego. Colour Out Of Space is the best event of its kind in Britain. Not that I’ve been to them all. Maybe its a mixture of the venue [a student theatre of a goodly size complete with decent PA], or the abundance of real ale pubs but those three days pass in a mixture of great music and good company. Thanks to curator Dylan Nyoukis there’s always a healthy mix of styles and genres ranging from vocal works to full on noise and with 33 acts covering two stages over three nights there’s going to be a bit of something for everyone and lets not forget the film screenings and galleries too. And at only £25 for a weekends worth of entertainment it has to be the best deal going. The down side to all this socialising is the inevitability of missing something. There you are deep in a drunken conversation when people start exiting the theatre to tell you you just missed the best set of the night. On the Saturday, so drunk and sociable was I that I only saw one act. It was though, the seriously deranged and highly entertaining Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Baer. The Kommissar and his missus divided opinion with a set in which they dressed in khaki jungle fatigues, complete with pith helemts whilst singing the refrain from The Lion Sleep Tonight. For about 40 minutes I think. The back drop screened a film they’d made of a man [I’m guessing the Kommissar] dressed in a pantomime lions outfit wandering about on a deserted lake edge staring into the horizon looking lost and mournful. As their demented vocals became ever more incoherent they sank first to their knees and then to the floor. It was exhausting just to watch.
Morphogenesis, Trevor Wishart, Damion Romero, Logos Women, Phil Minton and Isabelle Duthoit, Karen Constance and John Wiese, Sten Hanson, Joseph Hammers and probably lots of bits of others were seen, half remembered and enjoyed but the biggest cheer of the entire weekend and the one that brought the house down was Ju Suk Reet Meate and Oblivia who for a good thirty minutes entranced us with an improv ride through an array of vinyl samples. toy trumpet parps, noises, scrapes, out there sounds and kitchen sinks played against a huge screen of boiling tar pits and star fish. An unforgettable evening.
After being cosseted by Brighton the following weekend was akin to trip into the seventh ciicle of hell ... Stockwell. A place so lacking in cheer it makes Dewsbury look like Rio de Janero. Exiting at the fag end of the Northern line into a steady stream of early winter drizzle didn’t exactly fill me with the joys of spring but at least the Grosvenor isn’t too far of a walk and theres’ only half a dozen gangs of hooded youths to negotiate - each one of them looking you up and down and assessing your mugging potential. Tonight’s trip is to see Mikawa and Nihilist Assault Group but there’s John Weise and the Putrefier/Romance collab which gets off the ground about five minutes after Dean Romance gets to the venue. Unable to get the day off work the poor bugger has got on the earliest available train and within minutes is hastily plugging in his gear and away we go. The Grosvenor isn’t the best pub in the world and neither is it the worst. It just looks a little unloved and with me feeling damp at the corners and with one eye on the clock [last tube around midnight and you just don’t want to get stuck in Stockwell on a wet and windy Friday do you?] I just can’t get in to the swing of things. NAG, I feel are slightly let down by the lack of volume. Middle NAG is drilling a hole into a cymbal with a power drill when he gets it stuck which sends him into a rage and equipment is sent flying. He’s sent flying, he falls over and loses it and charges out of the venue. Left and right NAG stand there in silence in front of baffled audience. I leave, missing Mikawa. Unforgivable I know but it has to be done.
Somewhere in the middle of all this there was a brief Hair Police tour with a stop over in Leeds. The last time they played Leeds the venue was double booked and they ended up playing the shittest venue in town; the upstairs of The Vine. The upstairs room of The Vine looks like its been boarded up since 1983. You could hardly see through the windows for grime, beermats were literally glued to the formica table tops, there was a gents toilet that hadn’t had water run through it for years [but that didn’t stop us using it], buffets with legs missing, a total dump. Tonight though, they’re at the much improved Brudenell. When I first stared visiting the Brudenell it was more Pheonix Nights than respected venue. After a close scrape with the local authorities in which they nearly lost their entertainment license due to complaints about the noise, they’ve beefed up the soundproofing, beefed up the PA and even had the decency to stock some Chimay [whilst I’m at the bar two young lads appear and spying the Chimay ask the barman what it is ‘oh its some really strong Belgian stuff’ he says you wont like it and he’d be right - best stick to the WKD]. The PA is the envy of The Grosvenor. If NAG had had this PA then they’d have floored the place. As it is even the support acts are sounding impressive. A collaboration between Mutant George and Lee Culver going by the name Inseminoid delivers some of those great rumbling noise bass drop outs. They trail off into a tinny recording of a bog standard pop tune that goes on so long the audience wander away bemused and befuddled. Astral Social Club’s stuttering set seems to be some kind of Abba tribute. Latest ASC insert Paul Walsh layers on all kinds of sonic abuse as compliment to Campbell’s guitar frills, pumping beats and obscure Abba loop. There’s some kind of equipment failure mid set but the pair recover with a monstrous drum driven Krautrock/Faust-like wig out. Hair Police play the floor in front of the stage, all dark glasses, drunken equipment thrash and beery bass riffs. After soaking up their No Fun LP Certainty of Swarms this last week I revel in the combination of gadget led noise meets flat out rock throb meets disjointed fucked up stop start hit it miss it sprawl. Hair Police are no Wolf Eyes-lite they are the halfway house between what the indie kids want and what the noise crowd will give them. Its a short set, maybe twenty minutes but its still a visceral thrill.