Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Ex factor


Another day, another night spent underground in the company of men with scant regard for my long-term hearing...

And there was me assuming I wouldn't be the only person who decided the opening band on the bill had earned my attention on the strength of their name alone. As it is, Bedford's Ice, Sea, Dead People play to a sparse crowd, and in the yawning silences between songs, their patter not being up to much (the odd awkward muttering about "phallic endings" aside) during the excessive tuning-up time, you can the proverbial pin drop.

Those silences are only magnified by their juxtaposition with slashing, lacerating bursts of art-school post-punk, for which guitars are banged with fists and snapped strings stripped off with relish. This is music that Future Of The Left bassist Kelson Matthias has said makes him cry "just like the big black guy in the end of Prince's video for 'Purple Rain'". I think that's a compliment, and while I would suggest the mop-haired drummer could work on his timing, the likes of 'Justin Klein' mean I'm inclined to be broadly complimentary too.

The same can't be said for the more garrulous Load. Click. Shoot., fresh from performing at The Great Escape in Brighton. It would be nice to be able to agree with The Fly's assessment that they're "arguably the most exciting group to spring out of Devon in recent years", but everything about them - from the forgettable punk-funk splurge of songs like 'Le Disco Avec Moi', through the dance moves and yelping gang vocals, down to the deliberate punctuation of their name - screams "We're so now!" that it actually makes them seem strangely out-of-date, too late to the party. And not fashionably late, either. How could they be, boasting that they've just recorded 'The Boy Who' (amongst other tracks) with ex-Test Icicles guitarist Rory Attwell?

We're in a city whose ass currently belongs to Foals, and so it's not surprising that local label Vacuous Pop have taken enough of an interest to release their debut EP - but, for me, their set-closer 'Young Pretenders' says it all.

When I moved from Abingdon to Oxford itself in early November, and was at last able to get back into the gigging groove, I set about investigating what the city had to offer - and soon stumbled across a burgeoning noise scene. If I had to pick one song of those I came across that got me most excited, it was 'Sonny Liston' by Swans, Suicide and no wave afficionados Elapse-O, an out-there and deliciously ear-damaging cocktail of submarine bleeps, militaristic drumbeats, echoey vocals and dense feedback. 'Golden Ships' isn't too shoddy either.

Sure enough, 'Sonny Liston' is the song with which their set comes to a conclusion - but in the live environment the shifting tones and movements are sadly less easy to discern, the bleeps, drumbeats and vocals submerged not so much just beneath the surface as twenty thousand leagues under the sea. It's also fair to say, I think, that there are more gripping spectacles than two men swaying and occasionally hopping onstage with a laptop in the background. Perhaps, though, they're best enjoyed with your eyes shut and your ears more accustomed to picking things out of the depths? If that means seeing them again some time soon, then that's fine with me.

This is their first UK tour for two years, but Brooklynites Ex Models - like everyone else on tonight's bill - seem to be the victims of a Punt hangover which has meant a disappointing turnout. Not everything goes smoothly from a technical point of view either, with Zach Lehrhoff complaining with a smile that his amp is "humming in G", adding: "Do you have a different kind of power over here?" But these niggles set aside, they're quite a band to behold.

Not being at all familiar with their back catalogue - in fact, having never even heard them before tonight - I have no idea how much of the set is drawn from forthcoming album White Psychosis / White Dementia and how much from its three predecessors, but the majority of the material accords with their own description of themselves as a "fundustrial noise" outfit: fast, raw, clattering punk songs beaten, fractured and stretched out on the rack by gleeful math-rock and no wave loving torturers.

The most remarkable thing is the performance of Kid Millions, on long-term loan from psych freakos Oneida. Having cut a bookish figure at the bar when cashing in his beer tokens earlier, when showtime arrives he removes his glasses, places them on top of an amp and then proceeds to give a drumming masterclass. It really is like watching Clark Kent morph into Superman. Each seven minute long song Lehrhoff and guitarist Shahin Motia start up seems designed purely to try and break Millions, who appears to be under strict instructions never to play anything remotely approximating a regular beat, instead crashing his way from roll to fill to roll until trying to make a distinction between the two becomes impossible. It's exhausting just watching him at work, and by the time the trio retire I'm more than ready for bed. It's just a question of whether tinnitus will keep me awake...

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