Onehotrix Point Never
Howard Assembly Rooms, Leeds, 26th September
Brudenell/Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds 28th September
I usually post reviews of gigs I’ve attended the day after the show when the mind is fresh and the ears are still ringing but here I make an exception. Four gigs in eight days gave me little time for writing but on the other hand, plenty of time for reflection. Did I really see the Bongoleeros play two venues and a litter strewn Leeds street within the space of twenty five minutes? Did I really see the Sleaford Mods rip up the Kraak in that same space of time? Did I really see William Bennet wiggle his hips, not so much like a fucking eel, but more like your dad at a disco? I saw all of this and more. I saw Mainliner play that most famous of venues the Hebden Bridge Trades Club, a club so steeped in Labour Party history that I felt half naked without my members card. A town so steeped in heavy lesbian activity that the sight of a group of earth mothers with twigs in their hair and their Germain Greer for President badges worn proudly on their frayed dungarees caused not a single stir. To see Steve Stapleton propping the bar up seemed perfectly natural. I would see his one time partner William Bennett the night after but I’d have preferred it if it was Bennett propping the bar up [hardly likely I know but worth the observation] and Stapleton doing the gig but you cant always get what you want. As someone once sang
It got me to thinking about whether I preferred more down to earth venues like pubs, clubs and warehouse spaces or those austere art house caverns like the Howard Assembly Rooms. I’m thinking I know which the artists prefer: a chance to perform before 300 people with a huge back projection, a shit hot sound system, a decent wedge in their expenses paid pocket and kudos on the important music circuit or to rub shoulders with the lumpen proletariat, parading their wares through a house PA whilst being at the mercy of a sound guy whose got a headache and already hates your band whatever you do, in front of, if you’re lucky, 50 punters all the while running the gauntlet of getting ripped off by the promoter and getting home the day after having slept on someones floor for two hours.
There’s no denying the impact of those top end sound systems though. A clarity of sound that you rarely come across outside art spaces and Radio 3 live broadcasts. The arched roof of the Howard Assembly Rooms coupled to that Function One sound system played its part perfectly in reflecting Helm’s performance. And its here that I have to admit that I was in on a freebie courtesy of Helm’s Luke Younger. Its not often I get the chance to swan into venues such as the Leeds Grand and say ‘I’m on the guest list’ but here I was saving myself £12.50 and looking forward to seeing Helm [most of all] and then Cut Hands [curious as to how William Bennett is mutating these days] and Onehotrix Point Never [now forever known as Ten Pint T-rex] and their vintage synth warblings.
Helm played for about 45 minutes. Perhaps 15 minutes too long but still plenty of time for Younger to mix his looped cassettes [I’m guessing - I was near the back] and bring in sounds of a light rhythmic gamelan like nature, street sounds, found sounds maybe, all of which create a super slow ethnic ritual austere bleak industrial ambience, if there exists such a thing. I’m writing this a week after the event so forgive me the lack of detail but it was as if I was listening to [not surprisingly] a Helm record, any number of which I’d heartily recommend to anyone interested in such delicateness. Towards it climax Younger left the stage leaving his equipment to play all on its own. This lasted for about ten minutes during which members of the audience began to look at each other clearly confused. Was he finished? Was he going to come back on? Can I get up and go for a piss now? When it did finally come to an end there was polite, baffled applause. This is good. Cause consternation in your audience. Expect the unexpected. Even in an airy art space.
With hindsight I should have left there and then. Ears still ringing from Mainliner I was in no mood for what came next. Which brings me back to pub versus art venue. I once saw Bennett’s Whitehouse play the Royal Park Cellars, about a couple of miles away from the more austere walls of the Howard Assembly Rooms and it was one of the most exhilarating gigs I’ve ever been to [this has since been qualified by what I later discovered to be some carefully choreographed dramatics] but for sheer volume and presence its memory lives vividly on. I saw Sotos leave the venue with blood pouring from a cut hand [HA!] caused by smashing a beer bottle in what I assumed was genuine anger, the floor was awash with spilt beer, blood, crushed fag ends and the body of a drunk and passed out punter. No doubt Bennett, Best and Sotos made next to bugger all on the gig but it did Whitehouse’s reputation as a force of power electronics a power of good. And here’s Bennett ten years later stood stage centre with his ‘ethno noise’ project Cut Hands. Against a back drop of snakes and the silhouette of a naked woman dancing about as nicked from the intro to Roald Dahl’s ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ its a constant plodding thud of bashing drums of the kind more likely to be found at a Turkish wedding. I swear Bennett had one of those cheap Casio keyboards with the preset sound buttons and every now and again, on a beat, he’d press the cymbal button several times for effect. As it churned relentlessly on Bennett got more and more carried away with himself in one instance putting both hands behind his head and swiveling his hips vigorously to his own beats. I looked around the room and saw nary a nod. My interest was piqued when I realised that what Bennett was actually playing was the slowed down instrumental passages from the last two Whitehouse albums. Maybe. Maybe if I’d seen him play the Kraak in Manchester instead of Smell & Quim on the same night [and the same venue the Sleaford Mods played last week] I’d have enjoyed it more?
Ten Pint T-Rex’s back drop consisted of some computer generated blobs that made me want to vomit. By now I was considering chewing through my wrists as an alternative form of entertainment but decided to stick it out just to see if it got any worse. It did. Vintage synth was augmented by someone playing a laptop which wasn’t what I was expecting either. Neither was I expecting two minutes of silence between each ‘song’ as Ten Pint T-Rex *1 patched up whatever vintage piece of synth it was he was playing before treating us all to whatever it was it was called. The silences were embarrassing, the sounds being created only marginally interesting, in places, at times, when I was awake and not gnawing on my wrist, I did like some of it. I was glad I hadn’t paid £12.50 to witness it all. I was waiting for them to play ‘Nobody Here’ with the loop as nicked from the Chris De Burgh song Lady in Red but no. If he’d have played that, even for thirty seconds, I’d have forgiven them everything but now Ten Pint T-rex are on Warp or Mego or some other forward thinking label and everythings all fucked to buggery.
Somehow I managed to make it to the end but fled in to the street as soon as it finished. People applauded and some people even cheered. They must know something I don’t. Not only as the Emperor got no clothes he’s waggling his dick in our faces too.
Saturday couldn’t come quick enough. A matinee spot that began in the Brudenell and ended in the Hyde Park Picture House where at 1PM on the last sunny weekend of the year a crowd of people found themselves in a darkened room listening to drones and noises and all things good for the princely sum of five pounds. This five pounds got you to witness Super Hagman, Plurals, Kogumaza, The Bongoleeros and the Vibracathedral Orchestra and it was all as humanly warm and life affirming as the Howard Assembly Rooms hadn’t been. Yes they were both part of the same festival but in terms of enjoyment one might as well have been played in a Stalinist gulag and the other the warm snug of your local.
What remains lodged forever in those frontal lobes is the absurdist drama that is the Bongoleeros. A band that have imagination and costumes and a language all of their own [Dirty Mind, Secret Brain, I Can’t Help Myself, Do you wanna see some dirty drawers?] all songs of one line sang in a lascivious tone with a rapid fire burst of tin can or spazzed out of tune electric guitar for accompaniment. Tin cans, sticks, purple tights pulled over head, horse brasses for necklaces, split crotch pants and a jacket full of Mexican skulls with Hank Williams guitar writ large in paint at the back. They crawl and holler and stomp on guitars, bang a drum, shout, sing, play a Stylophone on the hip, rock guitar style. They do covers of Great Balls of Fire, My Coo-ca-choo and Borstal Break Out all of which consist of the song title sung over and over again. They hand out sticks and cans and we march proudly with them to the Hyde Park Picture House all a-grin making a racket and stopping the traffic as the local kids shout ‘fucking weirdo’s’ at us. But we don’t care because we’re all in the Bongoleeros and the sun is shining and we’re all as happy as happy can be.
When we get there they’re showing ‘The Tales of Peeping Tom Bogal’ which is of course a Bongoleeros film. And then the Vibracathedral Orchestra whose absence is now but a distant memory. Beautiful drones and clatterings all of which we soak up from our comfy Hyde Park seats where we drift in and out of mid afternoon consciousness.
Earlier in the day Hagman became Super Hagman due to the addition of a drummer [last seen playing with Castrato Attack Group in support of Mainliner]. Steadily growing drones of all things electric to which cling rim shots and tumbling drums. The bass drum is hit with a steady thud that increases with intensity as the drone builds so beautifully.
And Pluarls who’ve arrived from Brighton for a delightful set of equally gorgeous drone made with strapping Les Paul and voices and gadgets. And Kogumaza who’ve come from Nottingham and have been in town for about ten minutes before they’re playing their own kind of fuzzed guitar chord chugg which I’m no big fan of to be honest but the days going so swimmingly its like the whole place has been infected with good vibes. There’s Rob Midwich with baby jet lag, there’s Pete Cann filming everything and not breaking his camera. We’re going past the Royal Park Cellars and the take-aways that are just opening and the local garages who appear to be doing a roaring trade mending taxis and the shop that sells onion bhajis and everything is just so damned perfect you never want it to end.