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July 2018 – upcoming rock gigs – A Sudden Burst of Colour, a-tota-so and Theo tear up The Facemelter (6th July); Heldon and Hirvikolari at Café Oto (14th July)

2 Jul

A quick boost for the heavy stuff at the Facemelter this week, and for an avant-rock return at Café Oto mid-month….

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The Facemelter: A Sudden Burst Of Colour + a-tota-so + Theo, 6th July 2018
“Hailing from Motherwell, Scotland, A Sudden Burst Of Colour captures fans of electronic, ambient, dance and rock music with their soundscapes and encapsulating songwriting. Their sound is bright, shimmering and generally uplifting. The instrumental quartet have four globally acclaimed EP releases under their belt, which is evidenced by features from ‘BBC Introducing’, ‘The Scotsman’, ‘Earmilk’ (USA), ‘Arctic Drones’ (Turkey), ‘Stereofox’ (Germany) and many more, so this is a good time to catch them before they break into the wider world. Their recent single ‘I Am The Storm’ was premiered on Daniel P. Carter’s BBC Radio 1 Rock Show and they’re currently in pre-production for their forthcoming album, which is due for release at the end of the year.”


 
Replacing Bristolian mathrockers Hoggs Bison (who, like Barringtone recently, have come down with a bad case of broken wrist) are “noisy math/grunge band a-tota-so (formed by members of Alright the Captain and Cheap Jazz), who we’ve been dying to put on for ages! In their short one-and-a-half-year existence, they’ve already toured the UK and Europe, shared the stage with Tera Melos, Tangled Hair, Alpha Male Tea Party, Chiyoda Ku, Memory of Elephants, VASA and many more, and played at ArcTanGent and StrangeForms Festival. After a successful crowdfunding campaign, the band recently recorded their debut album at Nice Weather For Airstrikes and Snug Recording Co. and are set to release it in September 2018.



 
“To open, there’s a rare appearance from soloist Theo (described as “an extraordinary maelstrom of soundscapes, loops, beats and power” by ‘Louder Than War), who creates layers of tight guitar melodies and riffs by looping them over and over again, before sitting down at his drum kit and smashing out some fantastic rhythms to them. The range of dynamics and changes he achieves, as well as his ability to make the entire piece a coherent tune from start to finish, is astonishing. We’ve seen him perform around the country, including at ArcTanGent and at our late night Facemelter with Poly-Math and EVILLOOKINGBIRD, so we’re glad to see him make a return.”


 
Chaos Theory Music Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: A Sudden Burst of Colour + a-tota-so + Theo
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Friday 6th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

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Heldon + Hirvikolari, 14th July 2018

The upcoming Heldon and Hirvikolari gig at Café Oto appears to be happily selling itself without my input, partially thanks to Heldon mainstay Richard Pinhas‘ reputation as “the French Robert Fripp”. If that’s a fair comparison (and Richard has readily acknowledged that “Fripp has always been my Hendrix”), he might not have King Crimson’s ability to fill larger theatres but he does seem to have a far less compromised reputation in avant-garde hubs like Oto – for one thing, you wouldn’t generally find Robert Fripp going head-to-head with members of The Boredoms. A former junior philosophy professor, he jumped the academic ship in 1974, inspired by his own comparisons between philosophers and rock stars (and by his own taste for science fiction) to form an electronic rock band with a trans-sonic bent. This was Heldon, one of the very first French bands to use synthesizers, and one which would subsequently fall under the spell of King Crimson, Fripp and Brian Eno and develop their own droning improvisatory rock forms.

While the band originally only lasted for the course of the 1970s, Heldon’s albums are currently being reissued by Bureau B: this year, an archive live album, ‘Live in Metz 77’, was released by Bam Balaam. All of which has prompted a return to live action by Richard under the Heldon name. This is their first London concert for literally decades: expect to see an excited anticipatory audience of prog/avant-rock fans of all ages.



 
Hirvikolari – modular synthesist Mike Bourne and processed-trumpet guy Sam Barton – are more often found being two-fifths of Teeth Of The Sea Last time round, I described them as follows: “while Teeth Of The Sea tend to play great stomping horror-slabs of musical architecture (a flying saucer spitting out rows and rows of heavily-armed tower blocks) Hirvikolari prefer to take the slow path and evolve themselves a great bolus of stewed electronic burble and resonating brass tracks. Ennio Morricone’s been cited as a comparison, as has the long tradition of counter-culture festival techno: both comparisons have some grounding.”

 
There’s about three handfuls-worth of tickets left: if you want to pluck them from the eager grip of Baba Yaga’s Hut, I’m sure they’d be all too willing to let you have your chance.

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Heldon + Hirvikolari
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 14th July 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

May 2018 – experimental rock, hip hop and strange-pop in London – Black Midi, Shaun Sky and Omelet (10th May); Farai, Black Midi, Jockstrap, TONE and more (24th May)

6 May

As of yet, no-one’s really successfully categorised south London under-bubblers Black MIDI – something which I reckon they’re quite pleased about – but there seem to be an increasing number of people who get them, responding to the band’s perverse flinty reverberations with outright delight.

Here’s what I wrote about them last time our paths crossed:

“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… 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, (the) bass player 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…

“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.”

Wu-Lu Curates: Black Midi + Shaun Sky + Omelet, 10th May 2018

Having demonstrated both a preternatural confidence and a healthy genre-crossing “play-with-anyone” attitude ever since their emergence, Black Midi continue their London encroachments via two very different gigs in May. For the first (on the 10th), they’re playing at a Shacklewell show curated by South London artist and tastemaker Wu-Lu, a trans-Thames event aiming to “showcase some of the most exciting acts currently breaking through South of the river, all the way up in East London.”

Billmates for this one are a pair of hip hop talents. South London rapper Shaun Sky is the kind of affable jack who sounds as if he’d rather spend his time ambling round the top of a hilly park, greeting and free-associating, away from street corners. Semi-acoustic and spacious, his work’s balanced atop a London sundowner groove of sunwarmed beats, acoustic guitar and soul murmurs; his thoughts are a constant, light-touch note-to-self to pick up and get focussed.

 
On the flipside, Omelet (usually the beatmaster and orchestrator for the brooding, phantasmal Neverland Clan, the Catford-to-Hackney crew he also calls, with full irony, “the world’s gnarliest boyband”) steps out from his dayjob for a solo appearance. Taking something from the drunken-sounding, unbalanced, falling-asleep-on-the-spindle urban veil-dances he uses as Neverland backings (who generally sound as if Massive Attack had taken a couple of draws from their own future, straight from the post-split Tricky, and begun to disintegrate) he sharpens them up. Minus the MC murmurs of Daniel OG and Ryan Hawaii, they’re still narcotic and weird-eerie, but now more on pitch – disassociated minimal beatscapes made as much of space, echoing wafts and inconclusions as they are of hits and pindowns; uncomfortably sedated, with drift-in samples of dream-recountings and distant orgasms.

 
GLOWS presents Middle Of The Room: Farai + Black Midi + Jockstrap + TONE + more, 24th May 2018The second Black Midi outing of the month is at the second PL x Glows “Middle Of The Room” event at DIY Space for London. It’ll be a big sprawling evening of mixed media and art, in which they’ll be sandwiched between the adventures of two experimental pop duos – Farai and Jockstrap – on a bill completed by TØNE, who fires off slinky-robot salvos of latterday electro (veering between a kind of warm, distracted isolationism and scattered hints at the black experience).

 
Similarly oblique is what’s going on within Farai. Basil Harewood Jnr provides the sounds (deep-buzz, sawtoothed synthpop) while the superbly named/renamed Farai Bukowski-Bouquet provides the voice and the identity; the whole concept stitched together with lashings of Afropunk attitude and beady Berlin-art blankness. Farai herself yells small-voiced, cryptic/obvious nuggets into echoing dub-chamber space (“I am a warrior, but even lions cry too”, “Chasing the dragon, inhale exhale”, “I roll with the hell’s angels”) and always seems to be glancing off bigger statements, leaving pointers or shreds of clues rather than outright explanations or challenges; exchanging meaningful nods with Robert Johnson or Prince Far I while swiping past them on the autobahn. Perhaps there are more clues in the group’s videos – flat, pop-up art-gallery/fashion shoot reframing of introspections or street-market scenes, in which Basil and Farai seem to be part of a contracting and expanding collective of talkers, arguers, dancers and hustlers.

I can’t tell whether it’s all a deliberately difficult slit-view onto a bigger world, with them demanding that you make up all the running to gain understanding; whether it’s all codes and pre-initiations; even whether there’s substance behind those sketched references and implications, or whether its a handful of slogan-poses around an empty core. Sometimes it’s all frustratingly impenetrable – Farai makes fleeting eye-contact from under her lids, challenging you to speak or to question, without ever indicating that she’ll provide a reply – but she and her group are a compelling presence, a bewildering mix of shyness and stage-owning, resilience and passivity.



 
Jockstrap are easier to get. Despite the sweaty hardcore name, they’re another boy-girl duo: Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye, a couple of Guildhall grads who start out with ’60s MOR pop – orchestral, bossa, ye-ye – and then promptly put it through the weird wringer. What starts out straightforward ends up strange – pitchwarped; almost atonalised; drag-g-g-ing; like Portishead being dragged through a Nordic-narcotic slurry of slowed-down electronic jazz. Their pocketful of recorded songs come across like minor bossa classics being waylaid by experimental electronica, or by the teasing strand-by-strand rearrangements of contemporary classical. Full of drop-outs, cheap pocket blips and strange celebratory jump-shifts of tone, mood and pace, they’re prey to interfering sounds and rude, speaker-prodding mixes. Think of a more gleefully insane Elephant, a more mischievous Broadcast, the balefully intelligent murmur-whisper pop oddities of Anja Garbarek; or (going back a bit further) the mocking deconstructive treatment of old jazz standards on Django Bates’ Quiet Nights.

Live – with a two-man rhythm section and Georgia pulling triple duty on treated viola and stylophone – they’re deprived of the absolute mix control which makes their recorded songs so startling. On the other hand, they become a little more accessible – still subtly pranky with their interjections of weird sound processing and attention-deficit mood shifts (listen as a lounge-pop string part goes weirdly Chinese!), but with their disruptive futurism now fighting a rearguard action to their nostalgia. The other bonus is the added prominence given to Georgia’s breathy leaf-on-the-wind vocalising and her “now-I’m-slinky, now-I’m-friendly” performance persona: unveiling the subtleties and human touches within their songwriting from the offbeat thought processes to the shots of blunt, frustrated eroticism.




 
As with the previous Glows party, there’ll be DJ sets, a meetup for assorted zines and alternative promoters, and a steady stream of art curated by Felix Bayley-Higgins: “a pool of films, objects and images in continuous circulation, presented through a process of rotation.” No word yet on who’s contributing to this, but last month’s event had irreverent, ingenious and sometimes just plain beautiful sculptures and designs from a basketful of artists including Wilfrid Wood, Willa Hilditch and Harry Grundy.

Dates:

  • Wu-Lu Curates: Black Midi + Shaun Sky + Omelet, Birthdays, 33-35 Stoke Newington Road, Dalston, London, N16 8BJ, England, Thursday 10th May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • PL x Glows present ‘Middle Of The Room’ featuring Farai, Black Midi, Jockstrap, TONE + more, DIY Space For London, 96-108 Ormside Street, South Bermondsey, London, SE15 1TF, England, Thursday 24th May 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

 

May 2018 – a punk and groove womansplosion in London – ILL, LibraLibra and The Ethical Debating Society (11th May)

5 May

ILL + LibraLibra + The Ethical Debating Society, 11th May 2018

CLUB.THE.MAMMOTH. presents:
ILL + LibraLibra +The Ethical Debating Society + CLUB.THE.MAMMOTH DJs
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Friday 11th May 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

There’s an evening of feminist-slanted dance, rock’n’rave coming up in Bethnal Green next Friday, as delightfully gaudy post-punk Manchester shoutmonsters ILL (following up two previous self-released EPs) light the blue touchpaper under their debut album ‘We Are ILL’.

ILL, 2018Admired by ‘The Quietus’ for their “kinetic force” and describing themselves as “a genre-evading band which believes in the power of disobedient noise… with a repertoire of precarious pop songs and frequent improvised departures”, the all-female, fiercely feminist four-piece “revel in the right to be weird, exploring the borders between the funny and the sinister, the personal and the political, the mundane and the surreal.”

Between making a racket at Quietus events, Supernormal and the Raw Power Festival, carrying out relatively standard support slots with the likes of British Sea Power, and splurging out improvised audio-visual work at assorted art galleries, they’re certainly making a mark of their own choosing. In true Situationist tradition, ILL conceive their debut album as much as event as record – “…a call to action, a disobedient protest in the face of passivity, wrestling with the personal and political issues of identity and gender, mental health, the disintegration of social services, capitalism and misogyny. Subversive, surrealistic, humorous and fighting fierce, ILL warmly invite you to join them in kicking some ass!”



In support are Brightonian four-piece LibraLibra, a live mash of “exotic melodies and frenetic, lyrical flows meet(ing) tribal beats and broken guitars” fronted by striking singer Beth Cannon, whose recent credits include work with post-rockers Nordic Giants and co-writing/singing the riveting dream-pop-soul track Bones for Simon Raymonde’s Lost Horizons project (which she delivered like a magnificent tri-point cross between Etta James, Kate Bush and Liz Fraser).

LibraLibra’s debut single Animali (out since mid-March) is a rip-roaring renegade slosh of sub-bass-oozing world-beat carnivalia. As vigorous as the height of a Brighton Pride parade – or a volcano-cresting sabre fight between Shirley Bassey and Eartha Kitt – it’s chockful of animal namechecks, wild-woman party-leading, and a cavalcade of ferocious summoning lyrics (“you sting, you pierce my skin like a razor,” “monsoon of blood-flood, she’s calling”, “save me from the bullshit boy”) suggesting a writhing in-the-moment package of shape-shifting, menstrual sorcery, and assorted seize-the-day don’t-give-a-fuckery.

Completing the set, matter-of-fact London riot pop trio The Ethical Debating Society bring street-level DIY art-punk to the evening. Having originated as “a pseudonym for Tegan Xmas, writing anti-love songs on her hooty piano” it blossomed into “a full band, now with Kris Martin on guitarrr/vocals and Eli playing pots and pans. If we’re trying to prove anything, it’s that music is for everyone to have fun with, not just a chosen few.” Expect no frills; but do expect noisy non-nonsense songs about ethics, choices and the travails of the leaned-on, hard-bitten end of the London community.


 

May 2018 – upcoming London and Brighton esoteric heavy rock gigs – Memory Of Elephants, Codices, Rad Pitt at Facemelter (4th May); The Display Team, Magnus Loom, Ms Mercy (11th May); Poly-Math, InTechnicolour, Thumpermonkey (12th May)

27 Apr

Making a temporary shift from their usual Camden base at the Black Heart, the upcoming month’s Chaos Theory gigs continue to showcase colourfully noisy guitar rock of the post-, math-y and metallic kind (at the Facemelter nights) and mushroom outwards into avant-rock territories elsewhere.

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Memory Of Elephants + Codices + Rad Pitt, 4th May 2018

Chaos Theory Music Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: Memory Of Elephants + Codices + Rad Pitt
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Friday 4th May 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Bristol trio Memory Of Elephants are “insanely brilliant at making technically perfect math-rock sound like noise and making noise-rock sound like progressive perfection”. Already an established Facemelter act, their music’s a welter of restless multipolar mood changes and psych-cyclones with a bewildering delightful stockpile of guitar tones; from mechanistic hissing growls, fire-ribbon swishes and sudden injections of Detroit proto-punk to great woozy carousing fuzzwalls of MBV dreampop, Chinese orchestras and – at one point – what sounds like a gnarly old organ playing itself.


 
Codices (spotted by CT last year playing with Lost In The Riots) offer more pared-down, quick-on-its-feet, jump-and-feint riffage. Studded with bursts of spoken-word metaphysics, they’ve got an appealing heavy/light touch; changing between tearing distortion and sighing post-rock chimes like a rapier fighter who suddenly brings out gobbets of flamethrower blast.


 
Opening (and replacing Midlands slamcore duo A Werewolf!) are the gnarly pop-culture bawls and in-jokes of Colchester post-hardcore rabble Rad Pitt. Showcasing the Facemelter’s more mischievous side, they’re described by ‘Louder Than War’ as “like Enter Shikari without the disco beats and Extreme Noise Terror with some catchy verses attached to the mayhem” and by Chaos Theory’s Kunal as “plenty of screams and big riffs. Ridiculous fun, awesome lyrics, and a band we’ve been dying to work with for ages.”


 
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The Display Team + Magnus Loom + Ms Mercy, 11th May 2018

Match ‘n’ Fuse & Chaos Theory Music Promotions present:
The Display Team + Magnus Loom + Ms Mercy
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Friday 11th May 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

A week later, Chaos Theory team up with Match’n’Fuse Festival (long-standing promoters of avant-garde jazz, prog and all manner of genre-colliding music) to bring you “a one-off event, a lineup of audio oddities filled with weird and lively sorts. Just because.”

Chaos Theory call London trick-rock squad The Display Team a “prog-punk orchestra creat(ing) a heavy assault of surprisingly upbeat, melodic nonsense, resulting in something like a cross between The Specials and Mr Bungle”. Certainly, as they tumble through their brass-plastered tunes (like a Blackpool drunk being cannon-fired, with suspicious accuracy, through a line of deckchairs), they initially seem like another entry in the long roll of prodigious Zappa-esque loon bands, employing powerful and assertive technique in a circus-act of absurd flamboyance.

Beyond the parping and razzing, though (and beyond the slightly unhinged yell-singing of drummer-leader Chuckles), there’s a steely assurance to them; a determination to navigate to the end of the tangled charts and wrangled music, and to triumph. Ironically, this makes them more Zappa-esque than they’d be if they just larked around. Despite the ska breaks and the post-prog riff blitzing, the looning is secondary – to the point of almost being invisible – and what you’re left with is the vigour of the loops, feints and dives. Regular readers may be surprised to hear that I’m actually quite skeptical about these kind of bands. Not this one. Eyes on the prize.



 
In the middle there’s something similarly diverse but riddled with deliberate cracks, as sometime Echo Pressure saxophonist Joe Murgatroyd provides “avant-glam-punk cabaret” in his solo guise as Magnus Loom. His songs are a tossed salad of art-rock, post-punk, bizarre ’60s pop and Moonshake-style post-rock: some of them blurting skeletons of manically yawing subbass, oil-tub drum rattle and glockenspiels that sound like eighteenth-century jailers’ keys); others acidic sheets of synth buzz and guitar snag, generally carrying a topping of samples like a small tsunami that’s swept though a warehouse for unwanted toys.

Joe’s voice and songwriting match the vim and brittle wit of his instrumentation. Defiant, slightly lost and only slightly tongue-in-cheek, all of it filters honest angst through defensive satire; capturing the mixture of listlessness and energetic restlessness that gets us through the day while our consumer anxiety, our boredom, our mortality, our unsureties and our appetites keep bouncing off our own noggins.



 
Launching at this particular gig, show openers Ms Mercy are “a new noise project of total chaos, rock, metal, noise, prog, punk and more…. a brilliant Faith No More/System Of A Down/Bungle-esque experience.” It’s hard to disagree with that as you hear them hurtling through their cut-and-shunt of hard-edged musical fragments; their vocals a pugnacious, hard-eyed, Patton-ish pummel of semi-operatic theatrics through to rap. They sound like a snarling, barking pack of rabid wolves, but one that’s rather enjoying its own crazed death spiral.


 
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While Chaos Theory aren’t organising the third gig in the post (that’s down to the folk at the Brighton Electric studios) their cheery collective thumbprint’s certain on it – all of the bands taking part either fit the Facemelter template or will do, and Kunal is heading down to run the DJ sets…

Polymath, 2018

Brighton Electric and Chaos Theory Music Promotions present:
‘Help Dan Beesley Beat Cancer’: Poly-Math + InTechnicolour + Thumpermonkey
Brighton Electric, 43-45 Coombe Terrace, Brighton, West Sussex, BN2 4AD, England
Saturday 12th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here

Well-loved guitar-messer Dan Wild-Beesley (from Cleft and GUG) has recently conquered the mountain by apparently winning his battle with stage four brain cancer, but he’s still got the journey back down to contend with. There’s ten grand’s worth of medical bills, for which he’s only got about eighty per cent of the costs covered. With a JustGiving campaign in full swing (more on all of that here), quite a bit of what Dan’s needed has been raised by his friends in the math-rock and post-progressive rock community, and the efforts continue with this Brighton show.

Homeboys Poly-Math headline with their cosmic post-prog instrumental landscapes. While it’s tempting to tag them as something like “colourful, heroic NASA-metal”, I should be more careful before flinging the space-rock adjectives around. 2015’s mini-album ‘Reptiles’ implied themes of evolution and metamorphosis and more recently Poly-Math have been turning their impressionistic attention toward the hard knuckles of history. As of the end of last week, they’ve got a new double album out – ‘House Of Wisdom | We Are The Devil’, for which this show is the formal launch.

Hailed by West Midlands zine and promoters ‘Circuit Sweet’ as “thought provoking, intelligent and supremely executed music”, the album’s inspired by the 1258 Mongol siege and overrunning of Baghdad and its caliphate, and the consequential dooming of the enlightened university which lay within the city walls; from which so many pillaged books were cast aside into the River Tigris that the waters turned black with ruined and dissolving ink. Aesthetically speaking, there’s a terrific dark-fairytale ring to that story; but in terms of genuine history it marked the end of the Golden Age of Islam (with its giant forward strides in philosophy, science and cooperation) and the treading under, by brute force and proto-fascism, of its culture of curiosity and education. Bring your own present-day analogy: you’ll have to, since whatever meaning Poly-Math themselves intend is encoded between the notes and sonic surges of their burgeoning instrumentals.



 
Mid-bill comes the grand, quaveringly hallucinatory post-grunge stoner rock of InTechnicolour. Formed by assorted members of math-rockers Delta Sleep, experimental rockers Physics House Band and the live array for guitar-droners LUO, they regularly assemble to play a speaks-for-itself mass of heavy riffs and doodles through a pink haze.


  
I’ve said plenty about concert openers Thumpermonkey over the last few years, but thanks to their unceasing wit and creativity there’ll always be more to roll out. The missing link between Mastodon and China Miéville (or perhaps between Peter Hammill and Neal Stephenson), they play plenty of heavy rock gigs rubbing shoulders with the psych-y, the math-ridden and the screamy, and always fit in well; while simultaneously seeming to float above the fray, looking down with affable amusement at both themselves and their billmates. Partially it’s Michael Woodman’s voice – pure theatrical cordon bleu hambone, from the bottom of its ominous deep-tenor declamations to the top of its horror-struck falsetto. Partially it’s the baffling range of esoteric topics which slow-cook throughout the lyrics: a baroque, tongue-in-cheek, post-imperial melange of eldritch secrets, trans-dimensional catastrophes and strange surreal ennuis being visited on hapless pith-helmeted explorers and unwary academics, seasoned with nightmare flashes into surreal Jodorowskian dreamscapes, angsty post-grunge horror or delicately unfolding post-rock gags about Nigerian scam emails.


 
The music, meanwhile, is an ever-flexing full-spectrum crunch and hush, full of stalking shapes and hovering convoluted melodies. Game-playing geeks for sure, and clearly ones who are proud of their astonishingly broad armoury of sly references, veiled jokes and fantastical imagery; but also geeks who revel in their absolute mastery of those most un-geeky of rock qualities – muscle and poise. 
 

 

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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