January 2018 – upcoming London rock gigs – Sonic Bm #1 with Scotti Brains, Black MIDI, Barringtone and Jerskin Fendrix (5th January)

3 Jan

Sonic Bm #1 (Scotti Brains + Black Midi + Barringtone + Jerskin Fendrix), 5th January 2018

The Windmill presents:
Sonic Bm #1: Scotti Brains + Black Midi + Barringtone + Jerskin Fendrix
The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England
Friday 5th January 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Playing support to Spratleys Japs at the Windmill back in December, teenage Croydonians Black MIDI (subtitled, variously, “the decibel boys” and “purveyors of the loudest dreamscapes”) managed to win over a pubful of Cardiacs cultists. Not the easiest thing to do and they didn’t do it with post-punk virtuosity or effusive psychedelic complexity but by dogged, determined presence. Artful and awkward (or gawk-ward), in some respects reminiscent of key post-hardcore bands such as Slint and Jesus Lizard (and in others a muted, utterly pared-back Huge Baby), they also sound as if they’ve got there without listening to the records. While a generation of shoegazer revivalists annoy me by clogging up my inbox with ersatz sonic cathedral cliches, Black MIDI arouse my interest by whittling sparse piles of breeze-blocks into mysterious cranky monuments. At the Spratleys gig, I found them elusive to follow, and follow-ups are no easier (their Soundcloud’s vanished down the back of the rehearsal room sofa; their Facebook page currently consists of one post).

Still, they offhandedly own their space onstage: perhaps their secret ingredient might be impeccably fit drummer Morgan Simpson (who might look as if he’s timewarped in from the young Fishbone but seems absolutely at home where he is now) but when you’re dealing with a bandful of stubborn square pegs like this one, any or all of them could be…. Between holding the low notes down or strumming out wooly baritone chord-clouds, bass player Cameron maintains ambiguous eye contact with the audience, like an onstage imposter letting us in on his stunt. One of the guitarists (blessed and cursed with the arched, cruel, elfin eyebrows of Thomas Sangster) looks perpetually affronted, but instead of screaming out tortured emo wails he enunciates rambling, precisely-formed, utterly incomprehensible digressions: like a fiercely introverted baby Peter Hammill, or an exiled punk senator addressing a horde of penguins.

Having already won the adoration of the Windmill’s hardened-but-big-hearted Tim Perry, Black MIDI are curating or inspiring two more Sonic Bm gigs at the Windmill this month, plus one in February, and are playing at all of them. With a rumble spreading about their south London rumble, this feels like the start of something. Just as much as I find it hard to place where Black MIDI come from, I have no idea where they’re going; but they’re the kind of band which excites me via that blank-slate art-punk feeling that they could go anywhere.

Scotti Brains are what happens when professional pop workers suddenly break ranks and decide that what they really want to do is mess with people’s heads in delirious psych-pits, such as Baba Yaga’s Hut or the Crow’s Nest tent at Glastonbury. Unleashed guitarist Dan Carey is better known as producer for Franz Ferdinand, Hot Chip, Bat For Lashes and Toy. He also used to be keyboard player Oli Bayston’s boss before Oli went off to form dance-pop trio Boxed In and to do his own production and writing work for Lianne La Havas, Lily Allen and Anita Blay. Any prodigal-son dynamic in there, though, is amiably ruined by the fact that Oli and Dan have always been fast best friends. This extends to the rest of the band – Dan and drummer Liam Hutton bonded over mutual work for Kate Tempest; Liam and Oli through Oli drumming for Boxed In. Meanwhile, Oli and final bandmember Beth Buxton (provider of intermittent Nico-ish mantras and gnomics) bonded through being husband and wife.

Beyond speculation on motivations (or hugfests), Scotti Brains are simply a damn fine Julian-Cope-ian kickover. Bobbing, cheery, chuffing motoric pop, suddenly elevated by painterly sweeps of acid-wash fuzz guitars which kick in and turn it all tornado before the band plunges into a post-Neu! mountain tunnel, leaving you to tap a Motown tambourine all the way through. Absolutely the kind of thing Cope happily spills beer and blogwords over. They’re also pretty elusive – their only single so far came out as long ago as 2013 while gigs have been infrequent, covert and joyous ram-raids on the aforementioned psych-pits. Catch them now while you’ve got the opportunity.

 
More cunning motorik-ing come from Barringtone, who’ve been in ‘Misfit City’ before – driving art-poppers who sound like XTC cut-and-shut onto Neu!’s chromium chassis, and specialising in “elevator music for headbangers”. Bandleader Barry Dobbin trails a certain past in the shape of his previous band Clor, which excited pretty much the entire British inky press fifteen years ago, became one of their periodic great-white-hopes, and then vanished with an elegant flick of the tail while on the verge of success when the band felt that the frame simply didn’t fit them.

Since reemerging with Barringtone around five years ago, Barry’s been a fitful releaser. Now you see him, now you don’t. It seems that, rather than heading up a pop factory, he’s chosen to be the equivalent of a hulking silversmith; welding together something immaculate in big hands, then thrusting it at you with a grunt before shooing you out of his forge. Word has it that he’s finally assembled a Barringtone album and that it’ll be out before the middle of this year – which will at least allow me to understand the bigger Barry picture, and to drop most of the Clor references when I talk about his band. Alternatively, we could all go along to this show and attempt to puzzle him out beforehand.

 
Shropshirean singer-songwriter Jerskin Fendrix plays the cute innocent, the sweetheart with the big glasses and hipster beard who presents himself with guileless open sentences, wants to show you his photo album, and chats about late night TV comedy. I don’t trust him. I think he lies. I think he’s a smart operator with a wise, knowing line in media-savvy one-man synth pop, who uses Autotune like a dance of the seven veils, and who knows how to make use of lo-fi bedsit trappings without being trapped by them. He’ll be playing some songs from his ‘Winterreise’ album about his “exciting holiday to New York”. I’m assuming that this won’t be about dragging his busted heart through snow while encountering horrible metaphorical crows and disappointing mailmen. I also assume that there’s going to be wit and melismatronics aplenty.


 

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