Tunin' the motor, like a weekend boater
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Wednesday, May 31, 2006
My long-standing indifference to Mr. Banhart remains unaltered, but it’s hard to deny the music (and films!) he scheduled for his ATP day provided an embarrassment of riches...
Before the riches though, let’s get the embarrassment of the way; Danielle Stech-Homsy opens proceedings downstairs, her obligatory elfin-folky-songtress outfit perfect to a tee. Unfortunately though, her songs prove unassuming and forgettable; a pleasant enough stroll through some second-hand Vashti-isms, but sadly not really destined to reach much further than filling up tracks 7 and 9 on some abhorrent MOR nu-folk compilation that I predict your mum will be rocking within the next few months.
Tarantula AD are quite a startling prospect. Through the dim lights we can see a couple of band members on the left hand side of the stage, heads down over instruments pulling together a bit of hesitant piano / cello melancholy…. but what’s this? Turn to the right and there’s a dude with a Metallica goatee striding forward wielding a double-necked guitar like he knows how to use it, and before we know it – POW! – one of the other guys has leapt behind the drums and now is the time for GIGANTIC ROCK ACTION! Whoa there! Enhanced by plentiful electrified cello, this is a shot at a majestic heartbreak riffola with a vast, distorted sound ala Boris’s more lovelorn moments on ‘Feedbacker’ and ‘Flood’, with meaty chops and sledgehammer light & shade transitions that suggest these dudes are still living life under the shadow of late-period Zeppelin (‘Kashmir’, natch). In stark contrast to the indie/punk aesthetic of most ATP-affiliated bands, Tarantula AD play with deadly seriousness, slick professionalism and a thunderous force that suggests they’re getting in shape to headline stadiums before the year is out (again, very Led Zep), and, well, when the three members get it on in the loud bits, only a fool would deny they’re pretty fucking awesome. They’re a frustrating band to watch however, and for every Herculean chop-fest we’re also treated to some dreary passages of faux-classical atmospherics complete with plinky-plonky minor-key piano and cringe-worthy ‘ooh.. intense’ goth vocalising. The latter elements may not be to my taste and probably never will be, but in a world where Tool, Radiohead, Isis et al reign supreme, better lock up your medium-sized sports arenas, cos these guys could be coming home.
Next, two dark-eyed Manson girls in vaguely bird-related apparel take the stage amid a haze of incense and crouch in devotion before Marshall stacks. Oh boy, I think I’m gonna like Metallic Falcons! One of them takes up an axe and starts picking out devastatingly whacked crystalline fuzz guitar heavily reminiscent of Bardo Pond. Oh, YEAH! The other switches between guitar and synth and sings in a deep, accented voice, dramatically and ever so slooowly. The drummer from Tarantula AD sticks around too, if anybody’s taking notes. Metallic Falcons’ hazy, formative songs rise out of nowhere, raise more questions than they answer and disappear into the depths of memory. Their sound is sparse, and everything bar the guitar is elusive, but its evocations are powerfully established; it speaks of psychotropic night-time desertscapes, and weird, isolated creative life taking place within them. Midnight in Death Valley, if you will, but everything is groovy. On the colour spectrum their noise is green, brown with a fade to purple. And there’s a surprising, possibly surrealistic, element creeping in around the edges helping transcend the clichés… do we see a zeppelin (not Led) drifting over the horizon? Nick begs to differ with my desert interpretation; instead he gets a windswept moors vibe – Wuthering Heights and all that. It’s only subsequently, after flipping out and buying a record and a one-off recycled t-shirt, that I discover Metallic Falcons are actually a side-project of Coco-Rosie, whom dedicated readers will remember me both dissing somewhat and comparing to Kate Bush... so score one for the moors. Their album is called ‘Desert Doughnuts’ though, so let’s call it a draw. Either way, a wilderness for sure, with sparks of life within it, and a strange, bewitching band taking shape.
Espers are pretty fine too, essentially sounding like a more spaced out take on early Fairport Convention. Conveniently, that’s kinda what they look like on stage too. Imagine if, instead of delving deeper into Albion folk sources as their career progressed, Fairport had followed on through the doors they momentarily opened on ‘A Sailor’s Life’, evolving a floating world of explorative, psychedelic electric folk that would have fitted in perfectly running down the jams alongside Quicksilver and the ‘Dead on the SF ballroom scene. Would have been great, wouldn’t it? Well that’s where Espers fit in. The line-up sees an excellent (if showy) lead guitarist tracing out a fine litany of Richard Thompson-esque ragas n’ reels alongside more familiar acid-rock moves, supported by a dense field of beautiful multi-layered strings provided by two finger-picked acoustics and some fine droning on the cello, sewed together with slow grace by the psyche-happy thudding rhythm section. With a 50/50 gender split amongst the six-piece band, there’s an unashamedly feminine slant to the group’s sound that I heartily approve of, and the primary singer has a voice clear and true enough to stop a charging bull. Sadly, I’m only able to catch about half of their set from an unfriendly vantage point (eg, at the back), so a more in-depth analysis might have to wait until I pick up their records, but the only thing that immediately disappoints me about Espers is that for all the glorious psychedelic haze, their songs seem kinda vague and fail the make much of an impression – a stark contrast to Fairport’s bold and anthemic fare. Otherwise though, an extremely promising and interesting band, and if you were to pick out one of the many dubious new-weird-folky troupes currently in operation to lavish your attention upon, you could do a lot worse.
Espers' cello lady
Ladies and gentlemen, give a big ATP welcome to Mr. Bert Jansch! Well the welcome is big indeed, embarrassingly so for Bert who, despite over forty years experience of playing live in every kind of situation imaginable, seems distinctly ill at ease with the rowdy enthusiasm afforded him by this young festival crowd. Grumpily shrugging off rapturous applause and constant song requests, he plays for barely forty minutes of his allotted hour time-slot, evidently deciding we’ve had our fill after six or seven songs and buggering off. From most celebrated performers this might constitute petulance or borderline rudeness, but god knows, Bert more than anyone has earned the right to be a crotchety old sod, and more to the point, his performance tonight is as breath-taking as could possibly be wished. His guitar-playing is as effortlessly elegant as it ever has been and his voice has lost nothing of its unique honesty and strength. He plays the inevitable ‘Strollin’ Down the Highway’ and ‘Black Waterside’, Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Blues Run the Game’ and ‘Carnival’, ‘Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning’ – a version so startlingly beautiful it brings a tear to my eye – and finishes, perhaps appropriate to his mood, with ‘Poison’. His playing is mesmerising; just as on-point, if not more so, than on his definitive ‘Live at the 12 Bar’ album, and it’s no disrespect to the other acts on the bill to say that on a scale of musical inspiration, there’s a sizeable chasm separating Bert from everyone else. He represents another level entirely – that shared by the few most significant and inimitable talents ever to turn their hands to popular music. You’ll have to take my word for it that when I say it’s a true privilege to watch him play whenever mood he happens to be in and for whatever amount of time he deems appropriate, that’s not so much toadying to the man himself as simply giving his music the respect it demands.
At entirely the other end of the dignified old folk dude scale, it’s also a goddamn delight to see Ramblin’ Jack Elliot on such good form. Presenting the idea of the travelling folk singer / song collector more as an easy-going, sentimental entertainer than as a reflection of grass-roots culture or a force for change, Ramblin’ Jack (and he’s never trusted anyone who put a G on the end of ramblin’, he’ll have you know!) represents very much the other side of the coin from more high-minded contemporaries such as Guthrie or Seeger. As is obvious tonight from his ten gallon hat and cowboy engraved guitar onwards, this is defiantly old fashioned, cornball stuff of the best possible kind, like a dewy-eyed elder regaling his rapt grandkids with fictional tales of the Old West cribbed from John Ford movies. Having said that though, Jack is still sharp and charismatic despite his advanced years, warming to the audience as we warm to him. Offering spiked come-backs between verses to anyone who dares heckle or take a photo with a flash, he also regales us with a well-practised anecdote about letting his dog drive him to a gig (he runs late due to only going at 12.5mph, “a good, steady speed for a dog”), and a slightly more touching, off the cuff reminiscence about his first trip to England in 1955 and touring Europe along with a banjo player (“we travelled on motor scooters.. he had a Lambretta, I had a Vespa..”). Song-wise, he runs through a few old chestnuts like ‘Old Shep’, kicks up a good hollering blues on 'San Francicso Bay' and ‘Rock Island Line’, and despite all his jokes and antics, reminds us how powerful a simple song can be in the right hands with beautifully pure renditions of Tim Hardin’s ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ and Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice..’, the weight of his experience and a life-time’s dedication to song shining through. For the finale he calls a special guest star on stage and asks us to please welcome... some old guy nobody in the audience has ever heard of! But it doesn’t matter, cos he kicks ass too! Together they run through a pile of gleefully raunchy blues hoedown, good-naturedly throwing each other verses and solos, including a shout-out to “the girls of Hastings”, perhaps in the mistaken belief that the people attending ATP actually hail from the local area. Then they embrace like best pals who haven’t seen each other for decades – which is quite possibly the case I suppose – and the crowd sees them off with the most enthusiastic and good-natured bout of applause I’ve ever witnessed at ATP. “You’re not a bad bunch of photographers” says Jack, seeming genuinely touched to receive such adulation from a young audience, and all I can think is how awesome it must be to grow up with him as your granddad.
Ramblin' Jack in full effect
As well as bringing us the performances outlined above, Devendra Banhart also picked some excellent, weird movies to fill his ATP TV schedule (Sun Ra’s ‘Space is the Place’ in particular rocked my lunch-time), so much so that instead of giving the man himself another chance to win me over with his Charles Manson meets Michael Jackson meets Marc Bolan hippy goof-troop routine, returning to the chalet to crack open some wine and enjoy a double bill of Jodorofsky’s ‘El Topo’ and ‘The Holy Mountain’ seems like a far more enjoyable prospect. I wonder what Ramblin’ Jack would make of it all...
(Espers and Ramblin' Jack photos by Alex, Bert photo by me)
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Although I was too tired to actually stick around and watch them play, and though they could be accused of blatantly picking all their friends to play and not being terribly well versed in anything happening outside of New York, I’ve nevertheless got to congratulate the YYYs on programming probably the most interesting day of either ATP weekend.
On a day concentrating largely on bracing racket, improv quartet Imaginary Folk begin proceedings on a rather more subtle note. Comprising a line-up of two violins, miniature trumpet and banjo with additional contributions from tape recorders, wah-wah and loop pedals and hissing vintage vinyl, the group immediately overcome any accusations of pretension, delivering an exquisite set of indefinable explorative music, as rich in feeling and barn-storming technique as it is in synapse-sparking ideas and unrepeatable creative u-turns. The playing is not entirely adverse to conventional harmony, as evidenced by some moments of Godspeedian swell from the violinists and some slow, jazz-style interplay between all four members, but rootless free expression and shredding of the Derek Bailey / Arto Lindsey variety soon dominates as the “perverse extended instrumental techniques” promised by the ATP festival booklet are delivered in spades. The use of cassettes, analogue noise and pedals adds another dimension to proceedings, more low-tech and yet far more effective than the tedious language of polite post-Fourtet buzzes and fizzes that modern electro/acoustic meet-ups so often seem to boil down to. By far the most low-key act of the day, Imaginary Folk nonetheless receive a rapturous response. The key to their success I think is the way they quietly smuggle warmth and humour into an area of music often seen as cerebral and inaccessible, as perfectly encapsulated by the genius moment when one of the violin ladies cues up the final minute of Sam Cooke’s ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ on the turntable whilst the group exchange short, twisted solos around it.
It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast than with the next group who step up to the downstairs stage. Services are a militantly camp synth-rock duo, working through their teenage Gary Numan fixation via shrieked vocal chants and stabbing muscular keyboard riffs, much in the vein of The Faint or something like that. They put a lot of energy into their show, and the strobe lighting and the singer’s habit of taking flying leaps at cymbals provide talking points, but basically a bit silly and "not my thing".
Another new NY band who are very much my thing actually, Hundred Eyes kick up a formidable sand-storm for a sparse crowd as the opening act upstairs. Deeply rooted in the more abrasive aspects of the No Wave tradition, this two boy / two girl gang fronted by a guy dressed as a Middle Eastern nomad and wrenching howling open string noise from a battered custom guitar are an instantly exciting prospect. Things begin in the same ballpark as the neurotic urban crush rocked by Theoretical Girls and The Static, with the singer delivering incomprehensible bursts of tourettes over frantic, dissonant unchording, but things start to get really special as the noise spreads out and begins breathing deep, finding it’s way into the meditative headspace hinted at in the no wave dub of Sonic Youth’s debut EP before escaping the clutches of the city altogether, slowly reconfiguring the sound of deconstructionist art-rock until it no longer speaks of subway trains, syringes and breakdowns but instead explodes outward into blinding hallucinatory desertscapes, as no talent punk approximations of Eastern modes crash down over scything sheets of white noise. If you’ll allow me a moment’s indulgence, Hundred Eyes suggest the sound of William Burroughs walking head-down through the nightmare of New York he depicts in the opening to Naked Lunch, closing his eyes because he can take no more and opening them again to see the sands of North Africa stretching before him and Tangiers on the horizon, menacing, irresistible and getting closer by the minute. An ambitious coven of rock primitives, Hundred Eyes claim to be disbanding next month (on 6/6/06), so move fast!
That Ex-Models have gone through some serious changes since they recorded the comedic spazz-out of ‘Zoo Psychology’ a couple of years back is no secret. Currently, they number two guitarists and a drummer, with the great Kid Millions joining in today on more drums, offering punishing investigations of extreme art-punk’s crossover into compositional minimalism and emerging as an industrial strength room clearance device. Not that it works on the ATP crowd who, gluttons for punishment, pack the fucking place out in the vain hope that this sensory overload will somehow transform into euphoria. Basically, imagine two po-faced Lightning Bolts playing simultaneously, looping the same five seconds of high-end riffage again and again at catastrophic volume for fifteen straight minutes. Then doing it again, slightly differently. There’s a time and a place where I could probably appreciate such senseless, alienating racket, but as overtones of Merzbow-esque noise start to cleave through the PA during the second ‘song’ and more people push in at the back to block my escape route, I decide it’s probably time to chicken out and catch a breather.
Regular readers will know well how infatuated I’ve been with Magik Markers since seeing them play at last year’s ATP. It’s difficult to explain in reasonable terms why they had such a profound effect, but let’s just say that – to paraphrase John Carpenter – they took me down to the river, kicked my ass, showed me the power and the glory. And this year they damn near do it again. It’s notable that this time around they’re spending a lot more time playing their guitars with something approaching a conventional hand / string interface, and the result is – let’s make no mistake here – a fine, FINE breathless, inspiring noise.
Other highlights include Eliza getting maximum mileage out of abusing a big muff / wah-wah combo, Leah playing guitar through a bass amp w/ keychain shredding and dramatic foot-on-monitor microphone screaming, Eliza delivering an unaccompanied rant about something so brilliant that all I remember is her staring at me and telling me not to fear when the rapture comes down. Then she lays her guitar on the ground and stomps on the stage on either side of it, making feedback explosions like a giant’s footsteps. Then she screams come-ons and mangled threats through the pick-ups, possibly making those at the back fear the amps have been possessed by the spirit of Lydia Lunch. ENOUGH! The rest of this review will be pictures:
Not a second to digest all of that before it’s time to charge upstairs, weave as far forward as I can and catch as much as possible of Oneida’s set. It feels good. Oneida feel good. With Jane now concentrating on 6 rather than 4 strings, and new touring member Double Rainbow (aka the dude out of Trans Am) on second guitar, plus a bombastic light-show, this is Oneida at full force ramming speed, setting their sights on arena rock and RULING at it. Perhaps wisely when facing an enthusiastic festival crowd, the band’s recent concentration on song-writing and arrangements is side-lined in favour of the endurance defying motorik-hardcore workouts for which they’re best known. Bench-pressing blasts through ‘Each One Teach One’, ‘Lavender’ and the ever astonishing ‘$50 Tea’ jerk my body back into classic duracell bunny-boy form, reprising the classic Oneida Effect of flailing on the spot like an electro-shock patient whilst trying to dance to beats too fast for human muscles to keep up with; and it’s good to see this time I’m not the only one. ‘Did I Die’ and ‘Spirits’ from The Wedding are transformed into unlikely fist-pounding weird-metal anthems, and just when I’m satisfied Oneida have once more risen to their own standards of excellence, they take a deep breath and invite us to look into the light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light......
Around the time of their first album, I saw Liars play a small show, with support from a certain god-awful Biritsh indie band who’d attracted quite a crowd. I remember my elation as Liars took the stage, seeing previous band’s fans literally flee in horror as a mad Australian bastard started babbling hilarious non-sequitars over uncontrolled feedback and the charred rhythmic remains of Birthday Party, Big Black et al. What joy I felt to see those kids alienated and afeared by this band who had somehow infiltrated the arena of the ‘next big thing’, only to gleefully blast the fashion crowd with this deafening mutant dance music for weirdoes! MY music, MY band!
Well I suppose it is to be applauded that since then Liars have remained consistent to their original mission statement, getting progressively nastier and weirder until tonight I’m shocked to find myself amongst the alienated and repulsed. First off, they are LOUD – I mean, like, damagingly, illegally loud. Sans earplugs and trapped in front of the speakers I’m praying from the outset that they’re gonna have mercy. No such luck though, as their set blurs into an undifferentiated assault of crashing cymbals, mindless guitar bombast and thunderous industrial noise, with Angus’ vocals and any remaining song structure buried beneath ceaseless, crippling distortion. The menacing occult atmosphere and tribal Tago Mago dementia that I so enjoyed on their ‘They Were Wrong..’ album is nowhere to be found, with jovial between-song banter ruining any pretence of participation in an evil coven happening. Instead their set seems like mere sound and fury, signifying nothing and fucking our ears in the process.
(Imaginary Folk and Oneida photos by Alex Grimster)
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Friday May 12th > MUDHONEY DAY
Only half an hour in Camber and I’m already dancing in the dark to the sweetly refined rock n’ roll of Holly Golightly and her band. As her voice - mixing subtlety and guts like all the best female vocalists – rides over the sounds of vintage hollow-body guitars, Charlie Watts drumming and ‘House of the Rising Sun’ organ, Holly takes us straight to the smoky dancefloor of London’s hippest back street nightclub circa 1964. Tough, vicious, tender, swoonsome, swinging, timeless and deadly serious - why am I not already intimately familiar with this lady’s recorded works?
It’s been over 20 years since Australia’s The Scientists took the first few notes of the riff to ‘Have Love Will Travel’, moved them up the neck a few frets, hit the Big Muff and recorded the classic ‘We Had Love’, sparking dark imaginings in the minds of frustrated suburban punks the world over, the future members of Mudhoney foremost amongst them. There’s been much strychnine under the bridge since then for all concerned, and whilst the reformed Scientists may no longer look like they’re about to stab you for cigarette money outside a goth club, their trademark sound remains gloriously intact. Expanding the remit of feral punk rock to take in the slow-building menace of Suicide and distorted weight of Blue Cheer, theirs is still a unique take on swaggering, sunglasses-after-dark violence. Kim Salmon remains an electrifying front-man in the Alan Vega / Iggy mould, and Tony Thewlis’ wrecked lead guitar still defines the spirit of the swamp, whilst drummer Leanne Cowie beats out her tribal death rhythms whilst looking for all world like Sadako out of Ring.
To leave a set by such a fine band halfway through is a shame, but needs must when Comets on Fire are setting up downstairs. As a long-time listener, first-time caller to this definitive modern psyche band, I probably don’t have much to add to the reports of past veterans of their live shows, but suffice so say, believe the hype; Comets are as sweet a blast as I could possibly have hoped for. Even more so than on record, the group’s tight-rope walk between acid-punk chaos and majestic rock order is truly hair-raising. For all their feedback, space echo, free jazz aspirations and wanton pedal abuse, even the hoariest rock classicists would be forced to admit the Comets chemistry is shit hot; bass n’ drums thud, pound and cascade just like they should, fusing into a heavy, lysergic groove over which the guitarists set the sky alight. Although they’re still present and correct, Noel Harmonson’s echoplex/FX wormholes are less prominent than on record, lessening the band’s tendency to dissolve into a single overwhelming chaos onslaught and allowing the players’ individual contributions to shine through. It’s immediately evident that Ethan Miller is the all-out feeling-over-technique blaster, alternating frantic chord thrash with flailing bouts of sweaty, Aylerised, angel-carving skree, whilst Ben Chasny.. well.. I don’t need to tell fans of Six Organs what an unspeakable dude Chasny is when it comes to formulating fluid, melodic guitar joy, and he funnels it all into the Comets assault, leaping around the stage like a star-crossed teenager, circling Miller’s bull-in-a-china-shop central presence with sweet, unashamed “check THIS one out!” licks of a noble vintage. And whilst the psychedelic guitar geek part of my being frolics through meadows of Arcadian fuzz-toned slendour, let us also not forget that Comets have some serious Big Fucking Songs to fall back on too, not least the Floydian organ crescendos of “Pussyfoot the Duke” or the dive-bombing drama of “Whisky River”, both provoking much wooping and fist-pounding here tonight. A band so good I could have dreamed them into being, I ideally wanna see Comets on Fire play way louder and longer than a festival slot will allow, but still, one of the highlights of the weekend.
Comets on Fire
The Flesheaters are an aging LA punk super-group of sorts, featuring John Doe and DJ Bonebroke of X on bass and marimba respectively and other personnel drawn – so I’m informed – from the likes of Los Lobos and The Blasters. Together they favour a sax-driven brand of lounge-punk which isn’t bad by any means – at a push comparisons might be made to The Saints or Morphine – but it’s also easy to see why these guys have never really considered it worth giving up the day job for, and it lacks the certain something needed to keep this tired boy on his feet.
And so, Mudhoney. Despite an applaudable creative resurgence and widening of horizons over recent years, Mudhoney is still Mudhoney and, to an ATP crowd raised on the memories of grunge and it’s aftermath, there’s something of a triumph-through-familiarity vibe to be felt as the band plough through a no bullshit ‘hits-and-new-material’ set-list like the festival veterans they are. It’s astonishing to realise that I actually know all the words to every song they play tonight, and it’s great to relive the simple joys of awkwardly shaking on the spot, head-banging and hopping around to them after a few beers whilst silently shouting the choruses. I guess in all honesty the band are probably pretty sloppy, getting by on their good-times garage energy, but then, they’re Mudhoney – they’ve always been like that! So they idly toss off classics like “You Got it” and the inevitable “Touch Me I’m Sick” in record time before throwing a bit more force behind recent career highlights like “Hard On for War” and “Sonic Infusion”. Then they grin, crack some jokes, down some beers, thank the other bands, thank the organisers, thank the punters, grin some more and shuffle off for scarcely 30 seconds before coming back to send the mosh-pit to another other level of sweaty heaven with a blazing encore of “In n’ Out of Grace” and – yeah! – “Hate the Police”. It’s fuckin’ A alright. You know, for some reason it occurs to me at this moment that Mudhoney really ought to be Australian – and, in rock n’ roll terms at least, you’d better believe that’s a compliment.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
For the next two weekends I am going to be relocating to a holiday camp on the South coast to listen to a lot of men and some women express themselves in small ensembles utilising guitars, drum kits, their voices and maybe some other things.
So expect periods of silence interspersed with the inevitable colossal reviews.
In the meantime, please enjoy this post I wrote last week;
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO...
A few highlights from the recently released compilation ‘New York Noise Vol.2’ on Soul Jazz records.
Rhys Chatham – Drastic Classicism
Rhys Chatham was/is a minimalist composer who, like Glenn Branca, enjoyed hanging around the underground rock scene, and drew musicians from within it’s ranks to create large scale electric guitar ensembles to perform his work. Whether Chatham or Branca came up with the idea first is, I dare say, a point of conjecture and bitterness and not worth going into here, but either way you’d better believe ‘Drastic Classicism’ fuckin’ shreds. Clearly a devotee of the school of minimalism that emphasises GETTING STRAIGHT TO THE POINT, Chatham’s rock n’ roll ear-dream goes as follows;
A bouncy 4/4 drumbeat over which is layered what sounds like half a dozen out of tune guitars being repeatedly pushed against an industrial grinding wheel, with the amplifiers set up in a circle to create a dense web of ‘Psychocandy’ feedback.
About every 90 seconds or so, the guitars cut out, and there’s a brief drum-fill or a long, descending bass note. Then a moment of silence, then the beat resumes and the guitars come back in again, louder than before.
This continues for nine minutes, at which point it ends.
In purely utilitarian terms, it is perhaps the most perfect piece of rock music ever recorded.
The Static – My Relationship
Glenn Branca and Barbara Ess’s rock(ish) band, The Static, here cook up a definitive example of crushing urban paranoia. Matching book-smarts to pure brutality, it sounds rather like the Talking Heads going to hell and being taken care of prison-style by an early line-up of Swans. Yikes. I think it is probably safe to assume their relationships at the time of recording were not happy ones.
Red Transistor – Not Bite
A terrifyingly feral rock beast that lived fast and died young, led by Rudolph Grey of the Blue Humans and the legendary Von Lmo of, well.. see below, Red Transistor here take on board the aggression, repetition and anti-musical minimalism of the No Wave formula, but ditch any notions of artistic deconstructionism in favour of an all-out macho assault in the tradition of the Stooges. As you might expect, the results rock it fucking mad style, abrasive like being cornered by a sandpaper-wielding maniac in a burning down supermarket – a howl of pure out-of-nowhere geek violence to rank alongside Electric Eels, Crime, Teenage Jesus, Monks, Scratch-Acid and the like. There’s a ‘solo’ about half-way through which has gotta be the most demented piece of guitar-playing I’ve heard in an age – Arto Lindsay must have worried for his crown of the Kingdom of Skronk when these guys were in town!
Fun Facts about Von Lmo:
1. His debut performance at CBGBs consisted of his coming on stage in a straightjacket and chainsawing his guitar to pieces.
2. He claimed to have been born “in the black light dimension in the early 1900s” and to have been in a band called ‘Why You… Murder Me?’, the existence of which is entirely unsubstantiated.
3. It is rumoured that he was the inspiration for Elmo in The Muppets.
(sources: New York Noise Vol.2 sleevenotes, Galactic Zoo Dossier Damaged Guitar God trading cards)
Information of Von Lmo’s solo career is hard to come by, but it sounds fucking amazing . Who the hell is this guy?? – Uncle Julian tells all , and as you might expect, ‘normal’ is but a distant memory...
Monday, May 08, 2006
As a more seasoned fan of the band in question, I think Pete puts things better than I could;
From: "Peter Beckenham"
Subject: Grant McLennan 1958-2006
Date: Sun, 07 May 2006 01:45:48 +0100
I've just heard some incredibly sad news that i wanted to share:
Grant McLennan, the bassist and co-singer/songwriter for the legendary
Australian band the Go-Betweens, has died at the age of 48.
I guess if you're interested you can read the details here:
Wow, i'm stunned...truly saddened. I'm a huge fan of the Go-Betweens
and over the last few years have grown to love so many of their records. A
few of their cds accompanied me on my trip to Australia last year and i
even made a point of visiting places name checked in their songs;
Darlinghurst in Sydney and Spring Hill in Brisbane. Robert and Grant had a truly unique partnership, they were capable of writing beautiful, evocative lyrics,
songs that in a beat could skip from tearful 3am whisky confessions to indie
pop dancefloor should've-been-hits. Close your eyes and listen to their
song 'Spring Rain' and i swear you'll even smell the scent of dusty concrete
smeared blossom somewhere in an Australian outback town.
And Ben, it wasn't long ago that we were sitting in your room listening
to '16 Lovers Lane' commenting on its sheer awesomeness was it?!
I guess it remains to be seen if Robert and the others will carry on,
for now maybe not...but here's hoping the Go-Betweens name won't be
forgotten for a long time. What with summer approaching n'all, if you've never
heard it, go find 'the Friends of Rachel Worth' or 'Oceans Apart', you won't
RIP Grant McLennan, our Rock n Roll Friend...
Friday, May 05, 2006
Yes, it would seem that tomorrow marks the 2nd anniversary of the founding of this weblog.
In recognition of this rather unspectacular occasion, I've tweaked the template a bit, tidied up the links on the sidebar and added comments.
Yes, comments! I know they get spammed a lot and are basically a bit rubbish, but it always cheers me up to learn someone is reading this damn thing, and to be honest I don't really know whether I have 8 readers or 800 (but I do have at least 8 - that's enough), so do feel free to use them to say hello, register your considered opinions, hurl thoughtless abuse or whatever else.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Leicester Phoenix Arts
Compressed into a single weekend, this year’s Far-Out festival nevertheless packs a hefty psychotronic punch, especially to brave fools such as myself, clutching tickets for eight catastrophically freaky films in three days...
Things get going on Friday with Arrebato (Ivan Zulueta, Spain 1979), a rarely-screened work of sleazy arthouse dementia concerning a heroin addict director of hack horror movies who runs into a seriously disturbed young man who develops a philosophy of no-mind oblivion and literal escape from the world via obsessive filming of everything around him and.. well let’s face it, trawling through the skewed logic of a film like this in search of a quick plot synopsis isn’t going to do anyone any favours. Arrebato is a one-off masterpiece of cerebal punk rock film-making packed with junkie chic, decadent squalor, blazing pop art imagery and queasy, fluid, hypnotic editing and beautiful mise en scene, with a jarring, schizo soundtrack that veers between punk, early electronica, stolen chunks of film music and repetitive industrial noise. If we’re talking film-about-film and examination of cameras, identity and dsyfunction, Arrebato could be the equal of ‘Peeping Tom’, and as a reality-shattering post-modern new wave nightmare, it easily matches up to ‘Videodrome’. But the truly wild technique and a lo-fi gutter-punk quality renders it cooler than either. Astonishing.
A ten minute break to get our heads together, and it’s hard to imagine a bigger contrast than the annual screening of Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (Lee Damarbe, Canada 2001). Newcomers collapse in hysterics and veterans cackle proudly as the greatest DIY trash movie of the modern era flickers once more across the screen… punk rock cinema genius of a very different order to the previous movie, but on my fourth viewing it’s still truly inspired. Do your bit to spread the word, and get your own DVD copy imported post-haste! (http://www.odessafilmworks.com/jcvh/index.html)
Saturday’s programme of events first treats us to a solid hour of women who look a bit like Bridgette Neilson firing AK-47s at nothing in particular, captured for posterity with a single fixed-position camera, courtesy of Rock n’ Roll #3: Sexy Girls, Sexy Guns, which I can only imagine was bought via a small ad in the back of Guns & Ammo circa 1988. The strange sociological processes that have led to a small and baffled arts cinema audience being subjected to it circa 2006 could probably fill a book. If I was on my own, I’d probably have been tempted to bugger off to be honest, but felt a duty to my friends to share the experience with them. There was some bad hair metal to enjoy, and some of the voiceovers were pretty funny. Following on from that, we get Bikini Bandits (Steven Grasse, USA 2002), a rather more sophisticated production along similar lines, consisting of an hour of mind-melting, jump-cutting post-MTV uber-trash ; bad taste comedy skits, jackass gooning, endless OTT title graphics and acres and acres of we-ain’t-no-PC-lovin’-fags-dude ironic hipster girl/gun/car/beer porn garbage... all flying by faster than the educated mind can comprehend. Things are briefly enlivened by some cool animation, a kick-ass theme song and the appearance of a terminally confused looking DeeDee Ramone, playing the Pope. I don’t even want to think about the number of brain-cells watching this goddamn thing on the big screen killed. I guess it was an experience of sorts.
An experience of a rather more startling sort was provided by the notorious Thundercrack! (Curt McDowell, USA 1975). A singularly demented and legendary underground film which, rather like Jodorowsky’s ‘El Topo’, fully justifies the belief-stretching rumours you may or may not have heard about it, Thundercrack’s killer rep is only increased by the announcement before the screening that we’re watching a 16mm copy specially imported from Denmark, which has reluctantly been granted a one-off 18 certificate by Leicester City Council, on the understanding that half an hour of footage has been cut, reducing things to a lean two hours (!). Basically, Thundercrack! is a cheaply made, black & white (thank god!) hardcore porn epic, raised to undreamed of levels of polymorphous perversity and comedic subversion thanks to the genius script and warped imagination of trash cinema auteur George Kucher. The sex scenes are obsessively gooey, gynaecological and nasty to the extent that it’s difficult to imagine any sane person really being turned on; possibly this is a case of Kucher and McDowell deliberately upturning the usual purposes of porn as part of their quest to make the freakiest fucking gross-out film in history, possibly not, but either way they’re extremely uncomfortable to sit through. The non-sex scenes on the other hand are utterly bizarre and consistently hilarious, creating a kind of carnival grotesque bizarro world equivalent of a Howard Hawks screwball comedy (in fact, certain elements of the plot and setting make me suspect the whole project was conceived after watching ‘Bringing up Baby’ during an all-night cocaine session). One character is heir to House of Philips Unlimited girdle fortune. Flashbacks illustrate how his mother died at a dinner party after a rubberised girdle melted on her face. Ever since, his sex life has been ruined, as every woman he’s undressed has been wearing a House of Philips Unlimited girdle, forcing him to relive the tragedy. He has since found comfort in the arms of other men, and is on his way to Texas to destroy his father’s girdle factory once and for all! The fiery monologues that convey this story are absolutely priceless. The insane widow who owns the house in which all this madness transpires keeps pickled pieces of her dead husband on the kitchen table. What does she keep behind the locked door, and what was the fate of her son, a notorious pervert who disappeared whilst researching tropical diseases in Borneo? Half-way through, Kucher himself turns up, giving an unforgettable performance as a shell-shocked circus animal handler, traumatised ever since he accidentally fucked Medusa, a delinquent female gorilla who is now on the loose outside the house in search of human mates. How far will one man go for possession of the crate of bananas that could prove the only means of escape?
And that’s not the half of it. So, Thundercrack! ladies and gentlemen. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hurl, but you’ll never see another motion picture quite like this again. I feel veterans of this screening may need to start a support group to help each other get over it... laugh all you like, but you don’t understand - you weren’t THERE, man.
A few hours of troubled sleep later, and I’m in what may be termed a thoroughly psychotronic headspace by Sunday morning, so it’s a mercy to be able to retreat from interaction with the real world when proceedings recommence in the afternoon with Evil Aliens (Jake West, UK 2005), a thoroughly enjoyable slap-stick gorefest which sees a cable TV film crew and a gang of redneck farmers taking on an army of Predator-esque alien warriors on an isolated Welsh island. Unfairly dismissed by critics unable to appreciate the simple joys of a powerdrill-up-the-arse scene, Evil Aliens is sure to be received like manna from heaven by any audience of true horror fans, with it’s combination of ludicrously excessive violence, goofy but compelling character dynamics, surprisingly lively and high quality film-making and a constant stream of bad taste sight gags and geeky in-jokes (“that’s just fucking Day of the Dead without the helicopter!” comments one character on his mate’s survival plan). True, it’s utterly lame-brained, rough around the edges and over-reliant on dodgy CGI graphics, but like a lot of low-budget British movies over the years it more than makes up for it with good-hearted self-mockery, knowing humour and infectious enthusiasm, making for a film that’s impossible not to enjoy on some level (assuming you’re not too snobbish or squeamish). To put it in the same league as all-time classics of this-sort-of-thing like ‘Braindead’ and ‘Reanimator’ would be overstating things slightly, but Evil Aliens is definitely in the same ballpark, and guaranteed to pick up steam as a post-pub fixture on video & late-night TV (not that I suppose they’d ever let it on TV..). The most unashamedly FUN horror movie I’ve seen in a while – check it out. Oh, and if for some reason the words ‘combine harvester’ don’t already fill you with joy, they certainly will after this.
Sunday evening finishes things off with a couple of eccentric European horrors, starting off with Andy Warhol’s Blood for Dracula (Paul Morrissey, Italy/USA 1974). Disappointingly, the Warhol connection is practically non-existent, and rather than the New York art-trash tone I was hoping for, the aesthetic is closer to that of a stately European costume drama. The pace is slow and lugubrious, and things concentrate more on stagey dialogue and bad soft-core sex than any freaky pop-art bloodshed. Udo Kier plays Count Dracula as a sickly invalid travelling to Italy in search of some virgin brides to revive his ailing lifeforce, and conveniently finds his way into the household of a destitute noble family with four beautiful daughters. But as the Count swiftly discovers when he gets around to the neck-biting, the girls aren’t virgins – they’ve been getting frisky with the handsome, rebellious gardener, who represents the ultimate enemy of the aristocratic vampire – not religion or garlic, but SOCIALISM! It’s certainly an interesting film, with some inventive ideas and memorable moments and a slightly more intelligent take on classic vampirism than we usually get to see, but visually things are fairly sluggish and uninspired, and the acting, with a few notable exceptions, is pretty wooden, sadly giving the overall impression of a lacklustre and dull production that oddly mirrors the entropy afflicting the poor Count.
And finally, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Emilio Miraglia, Italy, 1971) is a particularly odd and insensible take on ‘70s Italian gothic. It starts out being about this insane aristocrat who lures prostitutes back to his torture dungeon because he can’t come to terms with his dead wife’s infidelity. Any old excuse with these guys isn’t it? Then just when you think the film’s settled on a sadistic proto-slasher tip, it changes course completely as he cheers up, gets married and the whole thing turns into some kind of convoluted gothic melodrama involving family feuds, double-crossing and nefarious schemes, ghosts, empty graves, murder, wolves and the like. There are a few amusing moments, a pleasantly kitsch atmosphere and a few fragments of cool freakbeat gear on the soundtrack, but basically it ain't really all that and is chiefly notable for the fact that, in the grand tradition of Italian horror, it makes no sense whatsoever. How come this guy who begins the film as a murderous maniac suddenly becomes the persecuted good guy? Why does that prostitute he does away with at the start come back to life, and what’s with those amulets she keeps dropping? Are they earrings or what? Why does aunt so-and-so pretend to be wheelchair bound, and why is she having an affair with that shady character in the woods, if they’re not actually up to any nefarious scheming? Why do they get killed? And what’s with the snake? Why are the schemers concocting all these elaborate schemes – and killing a load of people in the process – in order to drive the guy insane and claim his money when he’s already an insane murderer and surely all they have to do is report his crimes and get him taken away? If his wife is in on all the scheming, why does she go to all the trouble of having the crypt opened, and then get terribly upset when it’s empty? – if these the kind of questions which are liable to play on your mind in the dark hours of the night, best avoid.
So there we have it – many thanks to the people behind the Far-Out festival. It’s always a blast to have something like this taking place right on my doorstep, and the chance to see films of such rarity and genuine weirdness as ‘Arrebato’ and ‘Thundercrack!’ is a true privilege that I’m sure we wouldn’t get out of the majority of bigger and more high profile film festivals/seasons. Nice work folks.
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