Sunday, May 13, 2007

Evil Eyes


Tonight, an ordinaryish Thursday evening in April, will go down as something of a milestone in my gigging career for the simple reason that for the very first time I've decided to bring along a pair of earplugs - fluorescent yellow ones, all ready to advertise the fact that age and common-sense concerns about tinnitus are catching up with me. But then it's not actually your usual gig. No, everyone on tonight's bill, put together as a joint effort by Forecast and Lesson No.1, is out to give us a right good aural maiming.

First up is Trawsfynydd Lo-Fi Liberation Front aka Steffan Cravos, formerly of pioneering left-wing Welsh-language rap outfit Tystion (who, I've discovered, counted a recent colleague among their number for a short period). Together with tonight's special guest, who turns out to be none other than Martin Carr (Boo Radleys / Bravecaptain), Cravos manipulates his laptop into generating a melee of noise with odd moments of clarity when it becomes clear that the pair really are nodding their heads in time with beats that were submerged. Alien to me, according to the Lesson No.1 site it's "noisy breakcore / digital hardcore" (I'll take Noel's word for it) - it's certainly a very long way from 'Wake Up Boo'.

More laptop action follows in the form of Somatic Responses. Unlike Trawsfynydd Lo-Fi Liberation Front - one man assisted by another for tonight's gig - Somatic Responses are normally a duo, brothers John and Paul Healy, but tonight are slimmed down to just one (don't ask me which of the two is present, though). To these ears - once again very much untrained - pounding gabba acid is the order of the day, or industrial put through the grinder by a cackling Aphex Twin - dance music for psychos, basically. But, good though it is, towards the end we're getting a bit restless, starting to hanker for more in the way of a visual spectacle.

So it is that the next act - initially, at least - comes as something of a relief. With Consumer Electronics aka Philip Best of veteran underground noise / industrial earsplitters Whitehouse, a laptop is also an integral part of the performance - but mainly just to blast out an unholy noise. All eyes are on Best, a large bald man who, for the duration of the two songs he performs, chooses not to sit behind his instrument but instead to prowl around the stage area, at first unbuttoning his shirt and rubbing his nipples, later alternately bellowing "COME ON COME CLEAN" and licking the laminated pages of a book featuring images of a shaven-headed Britney Spears, and at one point tugging his penis through his trousers rather too vigorously for comfort. Richard Herring has marvelled that live artistic performance allows you to get away with doing and saying things that in any other context would get you arrested; suffice to say that Best not only understands but positively relishes that fact. Members of Los Campesinos! look on, and I'm left to wonder whether a radical new direction will be in the offing.

And yet it's the headliners who lay the most serious claim to being the most extreme band I've ever seen. Hailing from Michigan and, like Somatic Responses, playing their debut show on Welsh soil, Wolf Eyes are so loud they make me feel like my eyesight is going funny. At one point lead "singer" Nate Young, whose ravings remain resolutely unintelligible despite his insistence on using two mics at all times, appears to be checking the volume level is sufficiently high by waving his hand into the blast of air emanating from one of the amps. They are a very hairy health and safety nightmare, and proud of it.

All this I was prepared for. What I wasn't expecting of them - championed, like so many others, by that esteemed arbiter of good taste Thurston Moore - was "real" (semi-)conventional instruments. I had them down as purveyors of psychotic power electronics, but Mike Connelly has an electric guitar and John Olson, who completes the trio, plays some kind of strange homemade one-string bass which looks ridiculous but which creates a rumble so fearsome I'm concerned my internal organs may be about to fall out. With song titles including 'Stabbed In The Face', 'Urine Burn', 'Leper War', 'Black Vomit' and 'Noise Not Music' (the latter actually a cover of a track by No Fucker), Wolf Eyes are at the cartoonish not-taking-themselves-too-seriously end of the noise spectrum: imagine Napalm Death if they were really quite hacked off and hell-bent on using computers and electronic gadgetry to illustrate just how much.

But do I actually enjoy them? Well, I survive them, which I suppose is part of it. As a concerted onslaught without any respite, some of the initial impact is lost the longer they play, and, rather like much conceptual art, I'm left feeling they're perhaps better in theory than in practice - but I'm nevertheless glad to have witnessed them terrorise the Welsh capital and still be alive to tell the tale.

And in case you're wondering, the earplugs went unused. I refuse to accept I'm old yet...


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