Burn like a healing hand

What better day than this to sink into Andrew Liles’ slightly odd obsession with the Sisters Of Mercy? Looping and stringing out the choir from the start of ‘This Corrosion’ gloriously. Sadly it appears his full length instrumental electronic rereading of their debut as ‘First Monster Last Monster Always Monster’ seems to have dropped off his bandcamp page which is a pity. There’s a whole world of weird monster fixated stuff there if you want it. Here’s a youtube clip of his run at ‘Black Planet’ and the official ‘This Corrosion’ clip in its full swaggering preposterous glory because well, as ridiculous and overwrought as it clearly is – it’s also kind of irresistibly great. It’s the just the most… something thing. Somehow coolly detached and shamelessly histrionic at the same time. Happy hallowe’en.

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The final girl of finger foods

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13009791hey there lucky people, it’s Friday 13th (again – trapped in an ever recurring nightmare) – who wants to come to a cabin in the woods this weekend and get totally shitfaced? No? Don’t be chicken. We can fight evil too if you like. Persisting beyond all reason into 2017, thee monkey’s claw scraped up a pile of queasy ‘he’s behind you’ ambience, blasts of noise terror and lots of “shit, RUN!!!” beats into the kind of dubious party mix that’s always the last thing left on the side, looking a bit sad there, sort of picked at and only getting eaten once everyone’s too drunk to taste anything. The final girl of finger foods. or something. Anyway, not only is it Friday 13th again but it’s hallowe’en just around the corner so get in the grim mood with this queasy buffet of drones,weird noises and pounding techno dotted with decaying 80’s pop smashes . . .   

download it – (if you dare!!!)

Mamiffer –  13 Burning Stars
Puce Mary –  The Temptation to Exist
Pye Corner Audio – Ganzfeld Effect
Demdike Stare –  Dyslogy
Raime –  Dead Heat
Pye Corner Audio –  Transmission Thirteen:Line Of Sight
Johnny Cash – Reads From The Good Book
Marreck – False Martyr
Coil –  Tunnel of Goats VIII
The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu -It’s Grim Up North (Part 2)
Barker & Baumecker – Club Entropicana
Wham! – Club Tropicana
Aphex Twin – B side (DFN2016)
Dalhous – Statistical Order
Mark Kozelek –  13
Nurse With Wound – I Put My Mouth To The Lips Of Eternity
KETEV – Women / Animal Skull
New Order –  Elegia

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“Look at me, I’m a plane!”

Shellac, Iona Fortune            Oct 6th The Asylum, Birmingham

Alt-rock’s own Professor Yaffle brings his hobby band The Shellacs to town and gives a comprehensive demonstration of how it is done.

Steve Albini is wearing a T-shirt with a charming, folksy illustration of a squirrel on it. He is screaming about riding bikes. Or surveyors, or something, I’ll come back to that. As no doubt mentioned previously The Asylum is a pretty weird venue, devoutly old-school ‘rock’ in style, a bare bones warehouse in a no-man’s land at the jewellery quarter’s edge grim enough to scare the living shit out of those Supersonic visitors who moan about Digbeth being bleak. The corrugated ceiling is draped in Jagermeister and Jack Daniels flags, they make the staff dress in blood spattered white coats as vaguely ‘sexy’ psychiatric nurses and sell lewdly named frozen cocktails from repurposed slush puppie machines. It seems an odd venue to see Albini deliver his learned treatise on the meticulous workings of rock music. On the other hand, a band as long in the tooth as Shellac have played plenty of similar places in their time and we should, in fact, be grateful for a decent sized live venue that’s not a soulless corporate money machine sponsored by Carling or O2. Long may it’s dubious charms persist. I thought we arrived pretty early but Iona Fortune is already on stage and slightly spooky, icy bell sounds float over the crowd. There’s just the vaguest hint of The Exorcist/Tubular Bells to it. Is that her real name? Sat at a stand with an electric organ and something that appears to be a theremin but which she either doesn’t play or isn’t she sends out bone shaking waves of bass beneath that twinkling high end. It’s great, the sounds across the top seem to be downtuned and distorted samples of a harpsicord or dulcimer or similar. It’s calming but absorbing music. She does not ruin it by singing. She has waist length hair cut in a Betty Page fringe and what looks to be a black leather skirt – I’m getting a “Wednesday, building on what Lurch taught her but trying to leave all that behind me now” vibe but I’m sure it’s incidental, there’s nothing camp about it and it’d be lazy and unfair to pin her as a spooky goth. It turns out she’s from Glasgow, her record came out on Optimo and is the first of an eight album run based on the I Ching. Which makes it sound imposingly dour and worthy. It’s not though. Have a listen.

Shellac come on and do their thing. They are incredible at their thing that they do, not unique perhaps but certainly singular. Their minimalist rock strips everything right back until there are just three sparse parts to their sound, each one a joy to listen to, recombined in an inventive variety of ways. Shellac is a hermetic system, an often contradictory and confounding set of elegantly expressed elements. Live it can be an exhilarating and simultaneously frustrating experience. So it goes. If you’ve ever seen Shellac then you know what they were like, the outline is set, the specifics shift but the final result is consistent. They play their songs, the light show is static, Bob takes questions and wears orange trousers, they pretend to be planes and they take Todd’s drums away while he tries to keep playing at the end of the set. As much as this is a deconstruction of rock show cliché it’s also a showbiz sleight of hand that switches one card for another while our attention is diverted. Despite the audience questions, the improvisation and the changing setlists you’d be hard pressed to imagine ever being surprised at a Shellac gig wouldn’t you? ‘Steady As She Goes’, ‘Wingwalker’ and ‘Copper’ are all highlights. Is it just me that finds ‘Copper’s final pay off “you’ll never be gold” oddly moving? There are two or three new songs which will eventually end up in some form on the next album. Shellac have been together 25 years, it’s ten since ‘Excellent Italian Greyhound’ in which time they’ve managed just one other album featuring more songs about surveyors than you’ll ever need. The pace of their output is glacial and whether that’s the cause or consequence of their refinement and mastery of their material has become a zen riddle at this point. Two songs in and Todd, looking thinner than ever, has broken his bass pedal. The first round of questions are disappointing. Someone asks why they don’t have the cool amps they tour with in the states. Bob assures them that they sound the same as what’s on stage. I mention this in passing because only one of us has seen Shellac play with those amps, the other one is a desperate fanboy and I’m a bad person. Steve Albini is hiding behind the speaker stack or screaming about being a plane. He is wearing a T-shirt with a squirrel on it. You know, I don’t actually remember if they did ‘Squirrel Song’ or not.

Hey Colossus Live In Birmingham

Hey Colossus, Bruxa Maria, Aja, Rainbow Grave, Squalor Fan, HAQ123               Wagon & Horses, Sep 29


Ack! Ack! Ack! get an eyeful of that fantastic ‘monsters of rock’ promo artwork would you. A couple of local promoters combine to put this juggernaut dream bill together, a loud and joyous farewell kiss to summer, and it does not disappoint. Squeezing this much greatness in takes both stages and an early kick off but there’s already a decent size crowd and a good atmosphere for the hot sound of young Birmingham – HAQ 123. Having made their debut and charmed us all on the imposingly big stage at Supersonic at the start of the summer, it’s fair to say they’ve got better already. The first thing anyone’s going to tell you about HAQ is that two thirds of the band are little kids. Warm encouraging smiles and appreciative nods spread through the crowd and there’s a small group of fans their own age down the front. It’s brilliant, life affirming stuff. They’re better than “hey, not bad for kids” and thankfully the furthest thing imaginable from over competent, hot-housed, stage school brats. Their songs are like mysterious kids’ drawings you can’t quite decipher so you ask and get a great story that rests on its own curious logic and leaves you both more impressed and more confused. Because the mental codes and structures you have for this stuff don’t apply here. So it goes with their songs, open ended and rough at the edges, peopled by strange characters. Dave, the ‘grown up’ one on bass (and tonight sporting a pair of flared jeans so capacious he might have smuggled the rest of the band in under them) does an admirable job sitting back and letting them lead it while making no concessions to their tender ears with his filthy sludgy riffs. Only their teenage years can stop them now.

Tough act to follow. In a more traditional opening act scenario I miss most of Squalor Fan in the bar but do make it upstairs before they’re done. One plays bass and grins another mans the table full of electronic whizz-bang gadgets. There’s some drones and some beats, some vocal samples and all sorts. I’m briefly minded of ‘Love Missile F1-11’, I’m briefly minded of both Suicide and OMD at different points. In some ways not all that far to travel but your mileage may vary.

Back downstairs it’s party time with Rainbow Grave, truly the most grindingly bleak and yet hilarious band you could hope for. Rainbow Grave’s relentless churning riffs of doom are a world where even working yourself into a rage about the appalling state of things and/or your own pitiful soul is just one more embarrassing charade, one more tired and stupid pose of disaffection. It’s thirty years now since Bullen made his name with Napalm Death’s ‘Scum’, even then sensing it was a dead end he couldn’t be bothered to walk down. Now he wears the futility of it all about his shoulders like a practical yet comfy car coat and dances an obscenely mocking parody of existential pain. Figuratively speaking of course, he actually plays guitar and yells at us. Previously the dark humour that undercuts the brutal unpleasantness of the lyrics gave an impression the band was not entirely a serious undertaking but tonight completely dispels that idea. Like their idols HAQ123 it’s clear Rainbow Grave have been practicing, they’re harder, meaner, uglier than before. They’ve even been making records. Although I suspect they’ll hate you for buying them.

Keeping things fierce Bruxa Maria come out swinging. Once again in a different configuration but still ruthlessly drilled and almost suffocatingly intense. Matt Cargill’s electro noise contributions are clearer in the mix tonight which is all to the good. Bruxa pull noise rock, hardcore, sludge and more into songs that twist and turn in unexpected ways but do it with such an impressive lightness of touch you never see the join. That said, the pounding bass in ‘Human Condition’ shows its roots in Gill’s love of techno a little more than it ever has before. They may have played new stuff, I’m not sure, with Bruxa I recognise riffs and sections more than songs and they do seem to run together into one gigantic beast laying waste like Godzilla stamping on your pathetic matchstick houses. Monster. You should have their album ‘Human Condition’ because it’s A) great and B) cheap as chips – but if not here’s a free download tune that came close to the end of the set and was crushing.

Although it’s fairly warm out for the end of September AJA is doing her thing in the more comfortable confines of upstairs because no-one wants to roll around in their pants on the cobbles of a pub courtyard. I suppose I expected something similar to the performance at Supernormal. Not just from her but from the audience too and ultimately that just isn’t the case tonight. It’s confrontational and feral and it does sort of make the rock bands playing in the courtyard seem quite conventional but I think she loses the battle this time. I’m over in the corner with my mate who’s working one of the strobe lights so perhaps not in the best place to judge but she doesn’t seem to succeed in binding the crowd together to exorcise the pain, eliciting more of a typically brummie shrug of “steady there, love”. A couple of people later admit that they enjoyed it to start with but felt it descended into something voyeuristic that made them uncomfortable. That’s obviously a risk with this sort of performance, it may even be partly the point of it and I’m certain she’s played to smaller less appreciative audiences numerous times but it was disappointing. It has to be an exhausting and utterly draining thing to actually do, and ultimately unsustainable. Maybe in ten years time she’ll be onstage in elaborate headgear doing something more measured and we’ll cast our fading minds nostalgically back to when she used to scream in her pants and climb the pa.

The night has already proved a runaway success but the best is yet to come. It is an absolute joy to see Hey Colossus again. Tiny doubts that they might, despite the evidence of ‘The Guillotine’, miss Jonathon’s sparkling guitar parts or that maybe the full force noise of the evening’s entertainments thus far might make their shorter, more melodic songs, that now even have audible lyrics, seem a bit timid are immediately and comprehensively steamrollered by ‘Honest To God’ and a massive, rattling ‘Back In The Room’. They are ferociously loud and exhilarating, a tremendous amount of love flows back towards the stage. Sykes is in boisterous form, even managing to break a mic stand. As always I’m struck by how the separate parts combine with such elegance to build the colossus and set it stomping around the room. There’s complexity and richness in the texture of their roaring noise. The set draws heavily on ‘The Guillotine’ but stretches back across the last few remarkable albums (not quite back to the recently re-issued ‘Happy Birthday’), finishing on a punishingly great ‘Okktave Dokktor’ by the end of which I’m convinced it’s the best show I’ve ever seen them play. Honest To God.

funtime radio hour : songs and stories

It’s Friday then, how is everybody? The autumnal damp got into your bones yet? Here’s another of our sporadic online broadcasts. A surefire bunch of toe-tappers herein to keep you warm, possibly even get you moving about. We’ve got cover versions, nostalgia, weirdness, mid-western power trios, deep fried texans galore, english garage bastards and a decent amount of wonky diagonal electronic gear. I don’t usually go in for over explaining but I probably had too much coffee and there’s just a teeming web of interconnections going on here that’s put me off balance, so bear with me. First up while we were saddened by the recent losses of Holger Czukay and Harry Dean Stanton, they were pretty old guys. Grant Hart was still only in his fifties and had survived SST records, heroin and a mistaken HIV diagnosis only to get taken by cancer. This hardly seems fair, not that death ever plays fair, the news was thrown into harsh relief by the recent announcement of ‘Savage Young Dü’ a box set of early Hüsker Dü demos and live recordings arriving in a couple of months. So, yeah maybe we should have kicked off with something off ‘Intolerance’ or from his more recent solo records but the box set news had got me listening to old Hüsker Dü stuff already so there’s a couple of his songs to start with. I find a lot of live Hüskers stuff sounds pretty bad, particularly on Grant’s songs because he’s trying to drum and sing at the same time. This is a really good live version of ‘Green Eyes’ though. One of the other things tugging on my sleeve about this mix was a rolling stone piece about how Songs About Fucking is 30 years old.  ‘Warehouse: Songs and Stories’ is also 30 this year, something about the similarities in the titles and the fact it saw both bands bow out made me want to come up with some gruesome Frankenstein hybrid title but thankfully I though better of it. 1987 was a pretty bumper year looking back through my tinted shades, it also saw The Smiths bid farewell with ‘Strangeways Here We Come’ – three of the only legendary bands to have resisted the gaudy allure of reformation all quit in one year. There’s an ill thought out conspiracy theory hiding in there somewhere. Other 30 year old monsters of varying degrees of importance to us around here include ‘You’re Living All Over Me’, ‘Sister’, ‘Come On Pilgrim’, Yo! Bum Rush the Show’, ‘Locust Abortion Technician’, ‘Children Of God’, ‘The Young Gods’, ‘Scum’, ‘Darklands’, ‘Floodland’, ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’, ‘Frank’s Wild Years’ and also The Triffids’, ‘Calenture’ – a concept that, as far as I know, has not troubled underground rock music in the thirty intervening years until Hey Colossus’ ‘Calenture Boy’ this year. It’s a tempting stack of tunes isn’t it? I managed to resist that particular wormhole but put I some Big Black in. I went with ‘Pavement Saw’ just because, although it probably should have been ‘The Model’ going into USA Nails‘ ‘The Robots’ which sticks it to Florian and Karl and their whole robot schtick. Casting our minds briefly back to Supernormal there’s some Hot Snakes and that cover from Death Pedals. I did kind of go off down the worm hole kicked off by Grey Hairs though. There’s their version of Roky Erickson‘s ‘I Think Of Demons’ from the new EP and his own of the other tune they do ‘If You Have Ghosts’ both from hallowe’en favourite ‘The Evil One’. Roky is currently on tour in the US, he’s playing a couple of nights in San Francisco at hallowe’en, that could be pretty cool although it’d be full of burnt out old west coast hippies in tie dye and greying manes of smug. Night of the living dead heads. To my great surprise ‘The Evil One’ can be found on the bandamp –

If any band could make a stronger claim than The Butthole Surfers to be Roky’s bastard muscial children I’d be surprised to hear it. They take a pretty faithful run at the 13th Floor Elevators’ ‘Earthquake’ kicking the tempo up a bit, a straight vocal with no gibbytronic weirdness and great guitar from Leary. I know some folks were pretty upset about them not making it over for Safe As Milk this year, so it goes. Apparently we’re getting a new record out of them at some point. Experience suggests this sort of thing can almost only lead to disappointment, we should all perhaps recall more clearly how patchy their recorded output was overall and adjust our excitement accordingly. On the other hand, Pinkus and Leary’s efforts as part of The Melvins were impressive and King Coffey seems to be on something of a roll. If it was always destined somewhere dank and unsettling that Craig ‘Shit & Shine’ Clouse would one day make a record with one of the Buttholes USA/MEXICO is none the less a perfectly named and brutal Rio Grande mudslide of filth, ‘Yard Of The Month’ takes its name from Coffey surprisingly taking this crown of civic pride and good citizenship a couple of years back. Concerning the band’s parentage, that smiling guy on the cover is Gibby’s dad, Mr Peppermint. Yep. Enslave The Zombie is a kid who makes music on garage band with a little help from his dad. This sweet, if subliminally disturbing, version of ‘Moving To Florida’ is from his album ‘The Magic Of The Butthole Surfers’ a thing that exists and if nothing else proves that the last thirty years have surely seen some changes. Drain is an older project of King Coffey’s, in this case dismantling the actual King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s ‘Crawfish’ over some thundering drums. Shit & Shine does something similar with a drawling Dave Lee Roth interview kicking off the last section which turned outto be a bunch of wonky business on Powell‘s Diagonal records, including star of Supernormal Container, as well as Not Waving and Prostitutes

 

Grant Hart with Chris Strouth
Hüsker Dü –  Green Eyes (live)  [Spin concert 8-28-85]
Hüsker Dü –  Pink Turns To Blue  [Zen Arcade]
Big Black –  Pavement Saw [Songs About Fucking]
USA Nails –  The Robots  [Shame Spiral]
Hot Snakes –  If Credit’s What Matters I’ll Take Credit  [Automatic Midnight]
Death Pedals – Plenty For All  [Rip This Joint Compilation Vol 1]
Grey Hairs –  I Think Of Demons   [On And Off EP]
Roky Erickson & The Aliens –  If You Have Ghosts  [The Evil One]
Butthole Surfers –  Earthquake   [Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye]
USA/MEXICO –  Yard Of The Month  [Laredo]
Enslave The Zombie –  Moving To Florida  [The Magic Of The Butthole Surfers]
Drain –  Crawfish  [Pick Up Heaven]
Shit and Shine –  Excess, Laziness, Egotism  [Total Shit!]
Holy Fuck – Bird Brains  [Bird Brains]
Powell – Jonny [feat. Jonny]  [Sport]
Not Waving –  I Know I Know I Know  [Animals]
Container –  Radiator  [Vegetation EP]
Prostitutes –  Ah Yeah  [Dance Tracksz]
Martin Rev  Concrete  [Demolition 9]

supernormal 2017

‘Pink twine binds the urinal bales’

What words can you find to contain Supernormal? As this year’s amazing festival recedes into the past a near constant stream of photo sets, reviews and youtube clips (here’s a great one) reveal incredible experiences that seem to only slightly overlap with mine or each other. It begins with the gazebo police, has stage diving children, a solstice’s worth of semi-naked cathartic rituals and culminates in a drunken Godzilla Vs Rodan brawl outside the bar. For such a small scale festival they sure pack in a lot more than you can ever hope to see. How to make something coherent of a pocketful of disjointed impressions. With glue? Here instead is a list of thoughts about bands I saw . . .

Friday – In a turn of events so inevitable we may as well start referring to it as a tradition I miss the opening band, the aptly named Not Sorry. So the first band I catch is No Form, who are led by an angry young chap, bordering on the furious. The band behind him make a fittingly ill tempered and formless racket, storms of noise and belligerence billow from the stage in the scorching sunshine. They are wonderfully at odds with the prevailing mood of relaxed and convivial expectation, conjuring the dark simmer of a crowded bus, stuck in traffic in filthy weather. “hi, everybody!”

The first performance I’m really looking forward to is R.E.E.L. in the cosy but spectacular AV space ‘The Vortex’. Putting the ‘group’ into supergroup R.E.E.L. are a boyband of veteran/inveterate electronic psych knob twiddlers bringing their experience to bear on some improvised soundscapes. Or they will be shortly, Matt Saunders (Magnetophone/Assembled Minds) and Farmer Glitch (pHarmerz, Hacker Farm) are struggling to get their lorry load of kit up and running while Saxon Roach (IX Tab) gloats in the shadows having successfully opened and plugged in his laptop. This gives the impression he’s just responsible for the visuals, and he is, but I’m later assured he was behind the vocal samples and various other stuff too. I guess we might call it hauntology, a lot of the signifiers are there (and later they’ll reprise last year’s SuperParanormal search for sound spirits in the woods) but improvisation is very much in the moment, while hauntology hides in the shadows of unreliable memory. Does it matter? “thank you for coming”. They layer up textures and sounds, it’s warm and inviting without ever being too comfortable.

For what it’s worth Howlround is definitely hauntology, building up drones using the chunky old reel to reel tape machines the English department used to put radio plays on at school when they fancied spending half the lesson smoking in the staff room. The ‘radio ham tinkering in his shed’ vibes are strong. Almost as much installation as performance he stakes a claim to the middle of the floor with a couple of poles supporting wildy extended tape loops running back to a reel to reel on stage. Atmospheric wooziness fills the space. While we’re all stood watching the tape go round and around it’s a curiously static experience. (yeah, I know).

Closing out Friday on the main stage, international headliners Wolf Eyes dick about underwhelming us and trying to get in the mood. Someone steps up and hands them a bottle. A confused “What the fuck’s Buckfast?” is met with a cheer by the crowd. Without doubt the rest of their set is much improved for the refreshments. I also find that imagining them as a wasted country band in a desolate bar in the middle of nowhere helps make the experience more entertaining. They’re more fun than last time I saw them anyway. Buckfast makes things better. At least for a little while. The evening ends with one of the Cosmic Dead splitting the crowd with a DJ set of near unparalleled awfulness – the drunker, more care free among us are in the bar shaking it to ‘Ebeneezer Goode’, Darude, and worse, meanwhile out on the hay bales there’s more than considerable discontent and threats of actual violence towards his person, which doesn’t seem the spirit at all.

Saturday

The clearly shifting moods of the rain gods are stirring a tangible panic amongst the townsfolk. I take shelter in the bar where an unprepossessing guy is steadily working through a list of unrealised ideas for the festival. It starts a bit monotone Partridge but builds in eccentricity and interest via printer orchestras and cold calling choirs to dying fly techno to become one of the best things all weekend, he ends by playing 40 types of birdsong at once. No one wants to follow him so he encores the birdsong causing PJ from Bad Guys to headbang so enthusiastically he almost falls over. Beat that.

The band with the girl in the pink wig turn out not to be Tirikilatops, who I missed due to the rain, but The Wargs. They play a sweet and charming indie pop elevated by softly swooning pedal steel becoming the first band this weekend to play any actual songs. Their set is interrupted by a downpour but by that point they’ve charmed us enough that we seek shelter and cheer extra loud to cover the distance to the stage. Keeping things on the fuzzily familiar nostalgia tip St Deluxe are basically a baby Teenage Fanclub. The Fannies’ ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ turned 20 last week apparently so I gave it a spin. Great songs and lovely harmonies but it marked the death, or at least middle age, of the band I’d loved. St Deluxe are much more like that earlier version of the band, the one open to experiments and blasts of hardcore riffing, who took three attempts to start a song, more in love with Dinosaur Jr than The Byrds, that band. How charming you find another bunch of young scots doing that kind of thing now probably depends on how much you loved it then or being too young to remember. They kill an amp and finish with a wonderfully ragged version of the Modern Lovers’ ‘She Cracked’. Back in the bar Lord Of Lords feature Jason Stoll off of out of all the bands and play a kind of meditative drone jazz. Could go either way this sort of thing (and perhaps sometimes does) but as their name suggests they are on the righteous path.

Not all experiments work out of course. This year the reusable cups are black. Very goth, very metal. Also great for attracting heat and wasps to your cold and delicious beverage. If only wasps were delicious. In the heady, sometimes bewildering, cultural onslaught of something like Supernormal you try to stay open minded don’t you? To be reasonable and such. But some people just aren’t having it. Evil Usses appear to have a ladybird book of annoying stuff bands could do that they’re working through with giddy vigour. Hideous jerky time signatures and awful synth and guitar sounds abound. I think it’s safe to say that some of them listen to too much Zappa. It’s not for me then.

Gee Driver, Bruxa Maria

In the bar, Beards are a welcome relief and surprise. I’d almost call them ‘fun’ but I know some of us fear and mistrust the f-word. They’re exhilarating and bright and hectic in an abstract early 80’s kind of way. Putting the fun in the post-punk funk, if you will.

Now then, Bruxa Maria arrive full force and very definitely elevate the intensity of things a notch or two. As a special Supernormal two fer one deal they’ve got both Matt Cargill and Mark Dicker twistin’ the knobs of dirty electronic rage. It’s fierce and brilliant. And SO loud. Bruxa have managed to come up with a unique take on the familiar hardcore/metal/noise rock blend that has both a reassuring ‘rightness’ about it but still has room for surprises. My God! they absolutely killed it.

As you may have heard, Big Lad have recently changed their name from the more troublesome Shit Wife. You’d probably be surprised at just how much amusement can be got from rearranging those four words by a bunch of drunk idiots in a field. They bleep and clatter at a ferocious pace. Their set is an exhilarating, party starting joy spasm, a roar of pounding rhythm and giddily spiralling electronics. Whatever, they’re upstaged completely by the first appearance of the crowd surfing kids who’ve become a rare constant in reports of the weekend.

Big Lad whacks drums

Of course it has, the sight of kids being carried aloft by the crowd to the sound of Big Lad‘s demented battery captures everything that is special about this festival in a perfect moment. But they’ll be back.

My only succesful trip over to the barn to see anyone play this year is to catch Joanne Robertson who plays in near total darkness lit only by a table lamp at her feet. It perfectly focusses our hushed attention on her delicate vocals floating over her gentle guitar. She sighs and strums and breathes out mysteries, the songs dissolve on your tongue. It’s like a dream, like going to watch a ghost perform, extraordinary.

There had been some on specific excitement about the appearance of Jaxson Payne going into the festival, I can’t recall where from now, but I find myself a little underwhelmed. He’s impressive to watch if you’re aware that it’s all live as he nimbly summons sounds from his MIDI kit, no backing tracks or loops just good old fashioned real time electronic cunning. But technical prowess and modified gear are one thing, the result is another and if you’re sat further up the hill paying less than thoroughgoing attention well, it sort of sounds like an old trip hop record more than a dazzling high wire run towards the future. As Saturday night festival headliners go, you know going in that Bong are not going to bring the non stop party jams. Not even if the magic Buckfast fairy returns. Which is a shame, we could all do with a little headbanging or butt shaking on a Saturday night. They come out and play their chord. It’s a good chord, it deserves 40 minutes. I’m sure it’s not as easy as you think to play it for that long either. If you can sink into it, dissolve your ego and become one with the universal mind and so on then what they do is pretty cool. I’m drifting in and out though. Has the drummer fallen asleep on his snare? They’re joined this evening by Bridgit Hayden who brings an extra layer to things. It grinds on. And then it stops.

 

Sunday

Manchester’s three horsemen of the apocalyse Aggressive Perfector are named after an obscure-ish Slayer song and their E.P. is called ‘Satan’s Heavy Metal’ and if that doesn’t tell you all you need to know then you’re probably one of the more puzzled folks standing amongst the otherwise grinning crowd. They seem aware of the essential stupidity of their venture but never stoop to playing it for laughs. A time capsule of a band, worshipping at the feet of the big four and taking us back to a time before the kind of drone/doom epic weight of last night’s Bong set arrived. Wonderfully they have a song that starts with the ‘Be My Baby’ beat, the guitarist even throwing in the first line with a grin.

Giddy with our thrash metal kickstart we retire to the bar where I’m reminded of my dear old uncle testily exclaiming “I can’t watch a man play a desk”. Left Hand Cuts Off The Right is a bunch of droning hauntology table top tinkering in the now familiar fashion. Amongst other little treats he appears to assault a small stringed instrument of traditional provenance with a battery powered cappucino whisk. If that’s not a strident metaphor for our broken culture then I’m possibly sleep deprived and still too sober.

Hooray for Death Pedals! No nonsense, double down stroke riffing in a Quo via hardcore vein and perfect for a sunny Sunday afternoon. It’s something of a worn old truism that any decent band has a good drummer and with bands of this propulsive, breakneck ilk I often miss just how good until I catch them live. So it proves again today, nothing flashy but the man’s a beast. Had I remembered to protect my overheating brains with a sun hat I’d be tipping it with vigour. Meanwhile, as if to throw doubt on my drum musings, bass lad Wayne is sporting a Metallica T shirt with mischievous glee. It’s the band shot off the back of ‘Load’ too. I liked ‘Load’ actually, even the ridiculous country song, what about it? They don’t sound like Metallica, they sound like Hot Snakes even throwing in a cover of ‘Plenty For All’ to help you out. If you don’t have any Hot Snakes handy you can safely substitute some over-caffeinated Mudhoney for similar results. They’re less chaotically overexcitable in person than I expected, more wryly amused and relaxed but they’re still great.

I was really looking forward to seeing Cattle and they do not let me down, coming out the gate raging from the get go. With two drummers and no guitarist it’s percussive, bass heavy, noise rock. There’s electronics and even some surprisingly tuneful sax in there too. It has that perversely cleansing feel that huge waves of filthy distorted sound sometimes do, odd bits of Palehorse, No Means No or even Killing Joke pop up but they’re really getting into their own grimy, shouty, noise groove. About half way in there’s a pause in the screaming rage and the singer makes a sweet little speech about how moved he was to see the kids crowdsurfing to Big Lad yesterday. No sooner has he said this than dangerously drunk and unfit adults are once again trying to keep a procession of flying children from faceplanting. It’s wonderful.

We recover from all this excitement by starting a lengthy queue outside the Vortex to wait for UKAEA which is a new-ish project from Dan (Guncleaner, Sly & The Family Drone). At this point I am, for whatever reason, expecting Dan and Cargill to face each other on stage and make a bunch of abstract electronic squiggles for our entertainment/confusement. I am much mistaken about this. When we’re finally allowed in they and a range of accomplices are gathered in various states of undress and caked in clay body paint and straw. They have bowls of this at the front with which to annoint anyone foolhardy enough to join in. There are queasy, swirling drones and the folk horror/wicker man vibes are strong. I guess we’re in for something much more theatrical. The visual/ritual aspect is so arresting you only gradually become aware of Dan, over in the corner, slowly and masterfully building an absolutely mind blowing set of live hardware techno. It’s completely banging, an outstanding set. 

 

Probably the biggest and almost certainly the longest running name on the bill Zoviet*France are nonetheless still a very fringe concern. You can’t really be sure what you’ll get but they bring a subtle and assured half hour or so of textured industrial ambience. It’s absolutely lovely and yet I can’t quite relax into it, my fidgety brain still half expecting a lopsided clanking rhythm to pick up at any moment and take us somewhere else. I’m away back to The Vortex for more body paint and ritual catharsis. What everyone will tell you about AJA is she rolls about on the floor in her pants screaming, which is true but, inevitably, far from the whole truth. Firstly, there are the layered looping vocals and the huge wonky distorted beats, and the noise. It’s a lurid, visceral sound that’s almost as much of a physical presence as she is. After all, she’s tiny and she’s on the floor over there somewhere in the middle of the crowd. Most of the time you can’t see her but you can hear her scream. There’s costume and face paint and so on and it’s very much a performance in that sense but getting down into the crowd for a lot of it has the effect of making it a shared catharsis rather than just a spectacle. It’s clear by the end that she gets a lot out of doing it and is delighted and moved by the incredibly positive response – she later tells a friend around the fire that she often plays to small crowds who have no idea how to respond.

The final set comes from Container, a perfect way to close out the weekend I would have thought. A slender, studious looking chap in a tasteful jumper tinkers with a laptop, a drum machine and a four track to produce glorious rough hewn lumps of noise techno. What more do you want? I’m pretty delighted with it but there are mutterings from others which I think are along the lines of expecting a techno DJ set that gradually builds in intensity and has a bit more variety or something. Picky. My mate Dave stage dives because it’s so good. I’m with him on this. Whole thing and many more besides are still slowly being uploaded by the good people of IMPA TV . . .

Lastly, when you think it’s been as brilliant as it possibly can a Godzilla costume appears and pitched battles begin in the hay bales outside the bar. Then there’s Rodan too. Does it get any better than that?

It does not.