Monday 22 March 2010

Spectrum / Hush Arbors / Voice Of The Seven Thunders, 17 March 2010, Luminaire

Ooh, we haven’t been to a Sonic Cathedral night for ages and we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect line-up to hymn our return to the congregation. Spectrum AND Hush Arbors, mmm delicious droney, psychy goodness. And who will the billed ‘very special guests’ be? As we queue to get in, a man behind us is explaining to his mate who Spectrum are – apparently the bloke out of Spectrum used to be in Spacemen 3 and he produced the new MGMT album. It becomes apparent that these people aren’t really here for Spectrum. They’re here for the ‘very special guests’ who are obviously MGMT, innit? The internet is alive with rumours: Sonic Boom produced their new album and they’re playing Heaven tomorrow…‘tis elementary. Ah, but is it?

Once we’re in, an audience with the Bishop of Shoegaze provides us with the exciting news that the guests are Voice Of The Seven Thunders. Woohoo! I am thrilled about this, as is Kate when she arrives and I impart the good news. Not sure how many other folks feel this way though. The band take the stage to a bemused audience silence and after main man Rick mentions that he’s never heard MGMT, the silence only gets stonier. This is a shame as Voice Of the Seven Thunders* are amazing; heavy duty, exotically rumbling psych. Rick’s earlier incarnation Voice Of The Seven Woods built mesmeric psych woobles around a single guitar sampled and looped (at least whenever I saw them/him), Voice Of The Seven Thunders is a full band, able to exercise ferocious multi-instrumental glory. Confusingly, Keith Hush Arbors is on guitar fleshing out the songs so that they’re powerfully grooving. There’s also a bass player, and a drummer who pummels out tribal rhythms that hammer up through my boots and kick the sound through my system. Rick plays his finger-skipping guitar squalls though a teeny tiny amp ‘the size of a rabbit hutch’. Actually, it’s more the size of a hamster cage, but it doesn’t matter, the music is a furious wiggy wig out, and for those who care to listen a fine introduction to the gloriously all-consuming new album (yes you, incredibly rude woman who shouted ‘Get off’).

Hush Arbors are one of my favourite bands at the moment and their set tonight tells me I am quite correct in feeling this way. They play country music that has had something wrong done to it, leaving it an electricity-spewing mutant, sometimes gently weeping, sometimes fiendishly howling. They are soothing, yet disturbed. Keith’s Neil Young-ish (possibly) voice provides melancholic lament over heart-wrenching guitar melody and then over in the corner, Leon has gone all mad professor with his big box of effects pedals, scrubbing and scraping and chucking his guitar around in the name of beautiful noise.

This is already the best gig I’ve been to for aages. In fact, I think I enjoy the two supports more than the main event in the end. Spectrum are, of course, stupendous, but the set is pretty much the one I’ve heard the last three times I’ve seen them: Mary, Che, How You Satisfy Me (this is my favourite tonight – sounding super groovy), When Tomorrow Hits, Set Me Free, War Sucks, plus a spectral version of Can’s Yoo Doo Right. The hits are all here in their noddy-head inducing, Radiophonic Workshop tinkering, viciously pulsating glory, but these sounds don’t quite reach the air-bending, mind-melting heights of the band’s gig at The Dome last year. S’all relative though. This is Spectrum after all. Tonight they have a raw, garagey feel to them, less wub (to use Kate’s term), more fuzz. In fact maybe too much fuzz, as Sonic makes numerous calls for towels onstage – not because he has a major perspiration problem (though it is pretty sweaty in here), but to stuff in the back of his rickety Vox amp.

He’s joined by a seated guitarist who, spookily, is called Jason; an excellently powerful drummer and, cripes! Guto of Super Furry Animals filling in on bass, as the usual bass-player is ill. He has a little book to tell him what to play. Spectrum bass lines are pretty minimal, but important – think of the way they run deliciously up and down the scale in ‘Revolution’, a small detail that helps make the song (obviously given an airing tonight).

Throughout the set, hope reigns eternal amongst the crowd that MGMT will make an appearance any…minute…now…Even the Luminaire has sent a photographer (who has 0 clue as to who Spectrum might be) to gather prized snaps of MGMT gracing its stage. Sonic leads his band to a fulcrum of noise on an epic ‘Suicide’ and then simply announces, ‘I’m going now’, like he’s off to beddy-byes. Guto leaves a decent interval before carefully arranging his bass against its amp and legging it through a gap in the stage backdrop curtains. Things are winding down… No they’re not! Here’s Sonic again bringing Guto back onstage and rearranging the bass PROPERLY and then demonstrating to the hapless Furry how to twiddle the knobs on his effects pedal to get the desired effect. There then follows a period during which a LOT of knobs are twiddled and the song goes all minimalist…and here are MGMT!! Not really. The song ends. The set ends. We go home very happy.

* ‘Named following the rare find of an 1870s tome full of lectures on the apocalypse’ according to the Rough Trade site. Your friendly Librarian of Rock says, "The full text of Voice of the Seven Thunders ; or Lectures on the Apocalypse by J. Lemuel Martin can be found online here:

Thursday 4 March 2010

Pop Festering 1: London Popfest Films

Due to my being ill/ at work / being ill at work, I didn’t really experience much of London Popfest 2010, but here are a few thoughts on the bits I did get to:

London Popfest Films, The Roxy - 26 February 2010
We nick off work for an afternoon of having a nice sit down (this is good as I feel dizzy – cheers mystery virus thing!) to watch a couple of poptastic films in the comfortingly shabby environs of the Roxy on Borough High Street. The first film is ‘The Shield Around The K’, Heather Dominic’s exhaustive, lo-fi celebration of K Records. This sort of history of the label is somewhat obliquely pieced together via various interviews (featuring such luminaries as Slim Moon, Ian MacKaye and Rose Melberg), cut with rather grainy live footage of bands playing the first International Pop Underground Festival in 1991. Plus the odd groovy Super-8 pop video for Beat Happening and Tiger Trap and the like.

By the end the general consensus amongst the audience seems to be ‘it went on a bit’, but there is plenty to be entertained by and unless you are a raving K Records freak a fair bit to learn about the label and the people involved with it. Highlights include: Sonic Boom looking exactly like a skull wearing a dishevelled Beatles wig; Jean Smith of Mecca Normal telling an anecdote and changing her mind about what happened even as the words leave her mouth; some amazing ‘freeform’ dancing by Calvin Johnson; footage of Fugazi performing; the Roxy audience sniggering whenever record store moustache man appears on screen; everyone looking pretty good and not too old until you remember that 1999, when the film was made, was like 11 years ago. Oh yes and Calvin saying that when the first Beat Happening seven inch came out someone asked him what had happened to K’s ‘cassette revolution’. Answer: ‘Didn’t you hear? We won.’

The second film seems to get more bums on seats.
It’s the main reason I came as I missed out on its only other showing, at the Barbican in 2008. ‘Take Three Girls: The Dolly Mixture Story’ is introduced by director Paul Kelly who rather sweetly says, “Bye!” at the end of his intro as if he was on the phone. As he explains, the forty minute film combines extensive footage of Dolly Mixture from the early eighties with interviews and imagery he filmed in 2008. It isn’t finished yet, but it’s brilliant, perfectly juxtaposing the past (three rather na├»ve girls apparently just kind of doing stuff and it sort of working in a wonky way) and the present (three cool women reminiscing in a very matter of fact way without any annoying mythologizing). It would maybe be good to have a bit more of an idea of time in the film, sometimes it’s not really clear what happened when – just at some point between 1979 and 1984. Still, it’s chockfull of great bits and should be shown to school girls everywhere, as it’s utterly inspiring. Apart from at the end when the band finishes ‘cos one of them is pregnant with Captain Sensible’s child.

Good bits:
- As school girls Debsey and Rachel pretended to be in a band and wrote articles about themselves. We did that too!

- Debsey’s box full of old Butterick sewing patterns, and the band’s approach to ‘fashion’ in general.

- Preparing for their first studio session, Dolly Mixture practise getting progressively quieter as they play because they want one of their tracks to fade out. They haven’t heard of faders on mixing desks.

- Dolly Mixture go down to London for the day (in carefully chosen outfits that include coloured bowler hats – for that city gent goes pop! look) in order to obtain a record deal and are disappointed when they find you can’t just phone up a label and pop round to play them your demo there and then.

- Dolly Mixture’s Peel session never gets a repeat airing, ‘cos John Walters doesn’t like them, “The Slits crossed with The Nolans”. Boo.

- Dolly Mixture’s manager is called ‘Dubious Tony’.

- U2 supported Dolly Mixture at The Rock Garden. Captain Sensible reports that U2 were ‘crap’.

- Dolly Mixture don’t have enough money to see The Undertones play at Cambridge Corn Exchange so they stand outside in the car-park to listen. Afterwards they go in and manage to give the band their demo tape. Half an hour later they are asked to support The Undertones the next night. And then after that they get to be support on the whole Undertones tour and the band are all really kind to the Dolly Mixture girls. It is pleasing to learn that the O’Neill brothers in particular are very nice.

- Dolly Mixture the band write to Dolly Mixture the sweetie company to suggest some kind of advertising collaboration. The company declines this kind offer, but sends the band a big box of sweets! Can you imagine this happening now? A cease and desist order would be more likely.

- Debsey Wykes is my new style icon (not that I had an old one, but you know).

Towards the end of the film, drummer Hester expresses a desire to have a go at drumming again – but only in a sound-proof room where she’s knows nobody could overhear her. And she definitely would never ever play in a band again. This is a shame, ‘cos when the film’s over you can practically see the thought bubbles forming above the Roxy audience’s heads as they picture Dolly Mixture playing a reunion show to an adoring Indietracks crowd.

Pop Festering 2: London Popfest Alldayer - 100 Club, 27 February 2010

After yesterday’s cinematic extravaganza, I listen to Dolly Mixture en route to this gig. I feel like I’m in a swinging 60s film, ‘Smashing Time’ maybe, as I skip off the no.10 bus and straight down the 100 Club stairs. I’ve been at work all day despite this weird illness making my head buzz and the floor undulate, and so like an old lady I’m very pleased to see there are seats going spare in the 100 Club. I feel too groggy to really pay much attention to the bands, but I really want to see Shrag, so I stick it out, drinking a pint of Guinness ‘cos it might fortify me (it just makes the dizziness weirder). I notice that there is a preponderance of Girls With Bobs here, even more so than usual at an indiepop gathering. My hair is looking especially bobbed ‘cos I went to Last Days of Decadence last week and wanted to look like I was out of the1920s, but I don’t know what everyone else’s excuse is.

From my biddy seat it seems that Standard Fare and Allo Darlin’ play mighty pop-full sets and I'm sorry I don't have the energy to pay proper attention. However, I am persuaded to totter to the front to peer at Dorotea who have briefly REFORMED for a one-off trip to play in the UK especially for Popfest.

People (including the ever excitable Horowitz chaps) are pretty happy about Dorotea playing and throw themselves about with glee. Hooray! I slither further back so that they can leap about without me keeling over in their midst. Dorotea are skillz, they basically just play choruses and thus their songs are v. short. Cool.
I always get a manic pop thrill when Shrag play and tonight is no different. I feel a whole lot better with their itching powder rhythms and scrabbly guitar noises crunching through me. Helen is on good form, squealing her vocals, words cribbed from a big book of scrawled lyrics. She pulls some good ‘mentally distracted’ stances does Helen, plucking at her clothes, pigeon-toed, collapsing to her knees with nary a care for laddered tights. Despite my grogginess, I think the band are the best I’ve seen them, even with this unfamiliar set. Their second album isn’t out for a while yet, but a lot of new songs get an airing (is there really one called ‘Tights in August’? if not there should be) and jokes are made about everything we’re hearing being unreleased. I’m looking forward to the new album, ‘cos these songs are immediately great, they’re more nuanced (Helen reads out a monologue throughout one – ooh get her!) than just being revved up and in your face – although there is that as well. I like Shrag’s sense of menace - the aggression in their sound is most invigorating, and by the time they’ve stomped through a captivating set (which includes a smudgy ‘Ghosts Before Breakfast’ and top pop hit ‘Rabbit Kids’) I’m glad I stuck around.

Wednesday 3 March 2010

It's knowing you're alive through all the fuzz / It's never coming down from going up. Fave Tunes - January / February 2010

1995 – The Radio Dept. Back to work after Christmas muffled in a dufflecoat against the snow. The Radio Dept’s melancholic drifts of sound are Wintery perfect.

Mind How You Go - The Advisory Circle The eerie-comforting sound of radiophonics and 1970s public information films.

Unchanging Window/Chord Simple – Broadcast The peaceful ennui of gazing at grey skies. With a soupcon of spooky.

What Am I Gonna Do? – The Dovers Dippy/sublime mixture of psych and soul. Also to be found sampled on Atlas Sound’s ‘Walkabout’

Mirror Kisses – Citay Epically swirling psych folk with hints of Wendy and Bonnie.

Wide-eyed, Legless - Laura Veirs For the squealy noises that sound like tropical birds / fireworks in a summer sky.

Coming Home To You – Tim Buckley Sounds like contentedly greeting the California dawn after a long night.

Spin That Girl Around – Euros Childs Sometimes Euros’ voice breaks your heart.

Brite Futures – Dum Dum Girls Perfect mix of tough girl indiepop and roughshod garage a la The Delmonas

Owls And Flowers - Belbury Poly Sounds like the album cover ('The Owl's Map') looks.

Low Scene – The Sea Urchins Pilled up mod pop with slightly worrying rawk vocals. See here

Some Velvet Morning – Starpower I just rediscovered this psychotically overblown version of Nancy ‘n’ Lee’s vision of perfection.

Man Overboard! - Soft Hearted Scientists Listening to this on the tube to work; ‘Where are all the carefree days, they seem so long ago / We were going to change the world then routine caged our bodies and our souls’ Oh the delicious sorrow.