Tuesday, June 24, 2008

...the drummer is on valium...

New Cross Amersham Arms. 18jun08.

The ‘Faust’ of German folk legend is characterised as a charlatan alchemist. Given the amount of base metals used in the percussive cage/fort which contains heavy-set drummer, and founding Faust member Werner ‘Zappi’ Diermaier, one might be tempted to make that instant connection between that original fiction and this musical fact and suggest that if gold is made here, it is but fools gold.

That would be a touch excessive, and neither can any connection be made with Goethe’s Faust either; there have been no pacts entered into with the devil or anything here. Not overtly anyway, this isn’t Scandinavian death metal after all, although neither is it exactly close to the mainstream. As if to prove that they are not entirely removed from popular music though, tonight’s grouping under the banner of Faust (Zappi and fellow founder member Jean-Hervé Péron are joined by a variety of guests including vocalists Rachael Tyrell and Geraldine Swayne) begin by moving from a wake-up cacophony into a mangled take on The Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’.

Faust tonight operate from a subtle underlying of waspish psyche-folk to which they add a blunt industrial thwack. Not industrial in the conventional sense, but more a band in tune with a soot-blackened labour force and whilst far from resistant to the electronic age, the clank on pipes and the rivet gunning, which causes sparks to fly off the large circular saw tied steadfastly to the back of Zappi’s cage, is distinctly evocative of a time when the future was a Brunelian future.

Large sheets of metal also swing from the top of the cage and at times Jean-Hervé just throws the microphone at them, almost coshing Zappi in the process, whilst intoning “The drummer is on valium, give him a kick. Kick him.” They’ve been performing together since 1971 so Zappi will no doubt be wise to the need for duck and cover over the course of an average ninety minute set.

They paint semi-improvised urban landscapes, but with plenty of green amongst the grease (understandable, given their formation in the rural town of Wűmme), adding trumpet, an additional drum set, an accordion or even a chainsaw when they see fit. When the chainsaw revs it even begins to smell like a factory, and as Jean-Hervé attacks a load of plywood with it with some zeal amongst the front row, the chippings swirl and coat the audience like dust on foreign coins forgotten for years at the bottom of a vase [see pic].

Although ‘krautrock’ as a genre term invented by British journalists hasn’t always exactly gone down well with the actual protagonists, Jean-Hervé shouting “YOU did it. YOU gave it its name…we’re gonna play some KRAUTROCK” suggests that Faust have taken it in their stride. It is this final number, a fifteen-minute pulsating rotation, that sees Faust really come into their own.

Trying to hook them into the Faustus diaspora on the basis of their name almost certainly misses the point anyhow. They are not the result of the mystical or the creation of the precious. They are immersed in experimentation certainly, but in a distinctly utilitarian sense. Their collaborations espouse the benefits of working union, whilst their music is about strength and solidarity. ‘Faust’, after all, is also the German for ‘fist’.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Champagne Socialism


When it comes to extending personal invitations to quality support acts, Broken Social Scene have previous, having helped to propel Los Campesinos! into the big time on the last occasion they found themselves on these shores. This time the beneficiaries of their patronage are Aucklanders The Brunettes - essentially Jonathan Bree and Heather Mansfield and four accomplices possessing hair of a similar hue.

In truth, the Toronto-based collective are by no means the first North American band to have wanted to promote The Brunettes outside of their native New Zealand - none-more-indie brethren like The Shins, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Rilo Kiley have also taken them on tour. They've also had the more dubious honour of having one of their songs selected by Channel 4 for use in a long trailer for the acting-free zone that is 'Hollyoaks'.

The song in question, 'Brunettes Against Bubblegum Youth', is, it has to be said, the undoubted jewel in their crown - sweet, infectious and handclappily exuberant, like one of Jason Pierce's garage numbers smothered in honey by The Polyphonic Spree. All the same, the rest of the set, which draws heavily on last year's Sub Pop-released album Structure & Cosmetics, shows how positive the results can be when a band has been able to grow and evolve in their own splendid isolation, insulated by distance from the caprices of fashion.

Apparently, Broken Social Scene's sound man once met a girl in Oxford, and that's the reason they've been persuaded to play here. All I can say is: whoever you are, mystery girl, thank you. It doesn't quite match up to the first time I saw them - how could it, frankly? - but it still ultimately ranks as probably the best gig I've been to this year so far.

Not that the signs are too good at first, mind. We're in the Academy, of course - an atmosphere-free corporate dungeon a million miles from the deconsecrated church they played in Cardiff. Nominal band leader Kevin Drew seems reserved and a little quiet, and there's no sloshing glass of red wine in need of continuous refill, while charismatic guitarist/showman Andrew Whiteman is one of those missing. A stilted take of 'Churches Under The Stairs', from bassist Brendan Canning's forthcoming BSS Present... album Something For All Of Us, is played with the assistance of sheets of paper and derails during the third verse.

But the audience is only too happy to indulge the band when Drew apologetically offers to set things straight by playing it again, and gradually there's a slackening, a loosening, a thawing, and everything begins to flow smoothly. '7/4 Shoreline' and 'Superconnected' certainly help, as does 'Anthems For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl', performed on this occasion by Amy Millan of Stars, whose fellow band member Evan Cranley also plays a supporting role. Before long, Canning - looking somewhere between an eccentric geography teacher and a tramp - is entertaining us with his Peter Gabriel impression and the band are light-heartedly squabbling about where exactly it was that they had the misfortune to watch 'Snakes On A Plane'. Now in full Barry Norman mode, Drew advises us not to bother watching 'Atonement' - punting, it seems, was infinitely more enjoyable.

If it's difficult to lay a finger on precisely why Broken Social Scene's live performances are so superior to the recordings, then it's almost as difficult to explain their charms in the first place (in terms that don't just refer to the weight of numbers). One suspects that perhaps it's the contribution of Do Make Say Thinkers Charles Spearin (guitar/trumpet) and Justin Peroff (drummer/actor/aspiring novelist) that gives the songs a languid groove.

You could pretty much guarantee that the sweeping airraid siren guitar of 'Ibi Dreams Of Pavement' would bring the set of any other band to a close - but not Broken Social Scene, because they've still got 'It's All Gonna Break' in reserve. 'I'm Still Your Fag' lights up the encore, and Drew eventually leaves the stage exhorting us to "be kind" and indicating he practices what he preaches by gratefully returning a plectrum he borrowed mid-set. There's certainly nothing broken about the social scene they leave behind calling for more.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Ocean deep, forest dry

High Places.
Dalston Café OTO. 31may08.

Behind their trestle table console, Rob Barber can relatively calmly jep and bwat at his electro-drum box, and Mary Pearson, stood close by singing softly, is also caught within a tranquil twitch.

High Places’ percussive bent is certainly the first impression they emboss upon an audience, the polyrhythms created by Barber’s beats and the gentle rattle of the backing tracks intertwining like competing vines adopting different spirals to ascend the same drainpipe.

Pearson adds to the shake and shickle with a bracelet of bells and while her contributions, including a yielding but deadpan vocal that merges seamlessly with the general ethereality, are festive and fairytale, the combination with beats of tribal repetition as well as of Soca-like steel-drum abandon make their set like the early stages of some enchanted freakout.

High Places’ sound is both of land and sea. When watery, they are like a depth-diluted Coral Reef Cantina Band, the vocals often largely hidden in the mix due to the rippling belly-splash of the drum-work. At other times, it has a sprightly seclusion, like an isolated forest, but one that has not been naturally created; a kind of woodland mechanics where dandelion seeds tickle like toddlers yet also scrape the skin like bright new pins.

High Places @ MySpace


Post-punk folk-funk

New Bloods.
Dalston Barden’s Boudoir. 24may08.

It is with a juvenescent coyness that New Bloods assume their positions, circling around one mic to the left of the stage, like a young, feminine Travelling Wilburys given to hanging around the kids playground after dark for exclusive use of the swings.

They begin with a short acapella number that barely acknowledges its audience, butyet instantly captures their attention. Perhaps it is the frailty and the honesty of the human voice working alone, or in delicate harmony, that makes it so much harder to ignore than instruments amplified to inner-ear troubling levels. To open with this suggests New Bloods know how to pace a set.

Falling into their more usual role as players, they still use their three voices to good effect, working with and against each other as each situation sees fit. However it is bassist Cassia Gammill who is the regular lead immersing a robust vocal anchor to the click and flip rhythms that smooth the serrations of post-punk and dub-soul and slides them alongside the unpolluted, endeavour-driven folk-funk.

They are a school assembly !!!; a Gil Scot Heron if he was to become sonneteer-in-residence at K Records; an Electrelane for a relatively sedate venture scout campfire freakout. While the non-linear escapades of Adee Robertson’s drumming and the keen sweep of Osa Atoe’s violin might occasionally start to blur songs together, they have a sound which can fuse the responses of the head, heart and feet, which is by no means an easy combination to get right.

New Bloods @ MySpace