It’s a bad day to be a drum – wrong place, wrong time.
If you’re a drum today, you are going to get your head kicked in, because it’s all about the drummers – a succession of progressively more meaty, more bristling, more intense human beat machines battering out complex rhythms to the point that even from the back of the stage the drummers upstaged everyone else. Gentlemen, take a bow.
Prog is back. When math-rock behemoths Battles dropped debut album ‘Mirrored’ in 2007 they must have opened the a rift in the fabric of space-time through which poured generation-old ideas of lyric-less extended instrument breakdowns, extreme time changes, key-shifts and general proggery.
All of which live on in The Physics House Band, right down to the tight paisley shirts, array of vintage synths including a Moog, Fender Rhodes and Hammond, jazz bass played at approximately neck level, and esoteric track names like ‘Teratology’, ‘ObeliskMonolith’ and ‘Abraxical Solapse’. Three lads from Brighton, they play an incredibly tight set of cleverly arranged, heavy-jazz-prog-rock tracks from their debut Horizons/Rapture EP, from which the stand-out is ‘Titan‘, an arpeggiated piano-driven monster propelled by the stickwork of Dave Morgan, the first of this evening’s incredible drummers.
Portasound have been described as electro-pop, but considering that term also describes Little Boots and Madonna it’s fair to say it comes up short. With gleaming keyboards stacked on top of each other like iced cakes on a cake stand, they bring more electronics than either of their Blood and Biscuits labelmates playing tonight, blasting out acid-tinged basslines, wonky square wave stabs and bubbling synths underneath layers of guitar, held together and by the pounding precision brutality of drummer Graham Gaffney. Taking their name from the cheap Yamaha keyboard, Portasound’s best has a cinematic quality, like themes from never made sci-fi films. The crystalline breakdowns in ‘Polaris‘ sparkle (like C-beams near Tannhauser Gate, perhaps?), and the band is not afraid to let notes ring out into silence. The metallic, doom-laden entrance of ‘Procession‘ conjures images of some off-world prison colony, and the gradual, almost beatless build of ‘Ascension‘ is pure Vangelis. On the other hand the obvious, uninspired riffs from tracks like ‘Time Lost‘ and ‘Furore’ stray too close to Pendulum territory.
If The Physics House Band are jazz-prog and Portasound are electro-prog, then Gallops are the prog-funk of tonight’s triple bill. But not in a ’70s flared-trousered way. This is cybernetic syncopation funk, each layer of jangly guitar forced through the world’s biggest effects peddle rack, each keyboard drone and synth stab filtered and twisted and punched into the mix perfectly in time with the hulking, terrifying drum machine that is Dave Morait (fitting, for a band named after a drum pattern). New album ‘Yours Sincerely, Dr Hardcore’ is clever, subtle, almost prissy with finesse, but performed live the tracks become three-dimensional – faster, heavier, more raw, working the curious syncopated rhythms of tracks like crowd pleaser ‘Miami Spider‘, Morait drumming as if possessed, smashing stick after stick without breaking stride.
Avant-rock? Post-rock? Experimental? Whatever. Hawkwind this ain’t, but prog is back, and it’s never sounded so good.
Bassoon – you don’t get many of those in bands these days. Moulettes are nothing if not the exception to this and many other rules – swashbuckling genre raiders armed with cello, double bass, violin, autoharp, harmonium, glockenspiel and more besides.
Riding the same alt-folk wave that has brought many other contemporary acoustic artists to the fore over the last half of the 2000s, Moulettes however stubbornly refuse to fit into even the most vaguely defined classification – perhaps the closest might be one of the choices of genre available to those with that venerable relic, the MySpace page: “melodramatic popular song”.
Multi-instrumentalists and singers Hannah Miller and Ruth Skipper front the band, alongside violinist Georgina Leach (absent tonight), Oliver Austin on various forms of percussion, guitar and voice, and Jim Mortimore’s double bass. As might be guessed from such a diverse set of instruments, this ain’t no three-piece garage rock band. Their sound is thick with three, four and five-part vocal harmonies, layers of played and plucked strings, guitars and that oleaginous, glissando bassoon. Songwriter Miller draws upon a wealth of influences: the folky prog-rock of the likes of Pentangle, the tones and intervals of Medieval early music, gypsy, klezmer, and the story-telling and dark humour of the folk tradition – even if musically they fall well outside what folk traditionalists could stomach.
And my god, can they play. At some point, classically trained players of orchestral instruments must ask themselves where they might direct their talents outside the classical realm. The quality of musicianship here is tremendous (most of the band have been borrowed by the likes of Seasick Steve, Mumford and Sons, The Unthanks, The Holloways), with the tightest timing and clever composition weaving together ideas and rhythms, reinforced by the leading ladies’ powerful voices and, especially in Skipper’s case, theatrical tendencies.
Handclapping, finger-snapping and Skipper’s formidable beetle-crusher boots are all used as precision instruments, particularly on ‘Unlock The Doors‘, and ‘Sing Unto Me‘. ‘Requiem’ showcases a more proggy style with clever rhythm changes, but without ever becoming disjointed. ‘Bloodshed In The Woodshed‘ and ‘Cannibal Song‘ see them at their most darkly humorous, the former listing all the potential means of reckoning a jilted lover intends to deliver upon her man (“Trip wire/small fire/bathing with a hair dryer”), the latter a pre-dinner discussion with the narrator’s unfortunate soon-to-be ex-lover (“Oh, oh my lover/No longer will you love another”).
Hugely talented, imaginative composers and wildly enthusiastic performers, even during the slower numbers or when the occasional prog excess causes longer songs to drag, Moulettes are a real treat to watch and hear, and it would be a hard heart indeed that wouldn’t be moved to smiles and a bit of a jig. With a piratical swagger they carry off centuries-worth of musical booty and, like the sailboat that traverses their eponymous debut album’s cover, sail off into the rarely-traversed but delightful seas of Baroque-prog-folk-chamber-pop.
[Photos originally published at Clashmusic.com]
What would be the collective noun for shoegazers? A drone? A wash? A ride? All suggestions applicable to Freak Scene, this roving, regular night of shoegaze and noise-pop whose name harks back to the longhair experimental bohemian undercurrent of the 1960s and 70s at least as much as the unrestrained fuzz-blast of the eponymous Dinosaur Jr track.
Originally from Poland, first act The Enters tear through some especially Ride-esque smears of tremolo-powered overdriven guitar threaded through with propulsive drums and extremely danceable basslines, leaving heads nodding excitably. Lionface are hard to pin down – a singer who sounds like Mariah Carey, perhaps thinks she’s Arethra Franklin, but who resembles Lucia Holm.
But it’s the Francophone double-hander that the people have come to see. Like a sort of Gallic The Kills, Deux Furieuses are two girls blasting out a minimal but certainly effective, jagged sound on drums and guitar. By comparison, when she comes onstage alone, Stereolab frontwoman Laetitia Sadier remarks that her set will be a lot less after all that noise. “But that’s ok, we’ve had a lot of music tonight already,” she says.
It’s strange to see Sadier stripped of all her accoutrements: not just the protective shield of Moogs and organs used to such great effect in creating Stereolab’s indefinable Krautrock-lounge-pop, but even the post-Stereolab trio she has put together for her two solo albums, ‘The Trip’ from 2010 and last year’s ‘Silencio’. She might even feel a little naked onstage, clutching a Fender Mustang which she plays left-handed. Reduced to just voice and guitar, her songs are spare and still, filled out only by Sadier’s instantly recognisable voice. Even when assaulted from all directions by the hum and drone of Stereolab, her lush, melancholy tones and penchant for minor intervals always scored through – even more so here.
‘The Trip’ was a small and beautiful thing which while tinged with sadness (channelling the emotional impact of her sister Noelle’s suicide) was never maudlin despite its personal themes. The cover of Les Rita Mitsuoko’s ‘Un Soir, Un Chien’ is played as bubbling French disco on the album, but here stripped back to its smallest core the lyrical double meanings appear: “Quand tu l’as décidé, tu m’as laissée/Et je suis resté attachée/Et moi je resterai/Quand même.”
Sadier’s songs on ‘Silencio’ return to the more strident political themes for which she is known. How little has changed in the 20 years since her scathing criticism of power in the likes of Stereolab’s ‘Ping Pong‘, ‘Outer Accelerator‘ and ‘Nihilist Assault Group‘ – something she acknowledges as she allows herself a little bitter laugh introducing ‘Rule of the Game‘: “This is about how we have let the financial markets rule our lives – remember that one?”
It’s a quick set but memorable, holding this audience rapt and silent, mesmerised by the Shah’s voice, her intriguing Frenchness, her strident philosophy, and perhaps the sound of mellotrons and Moogs playing only in their heads.