Wednesday, August 25, 2010


There comes a time when a man just needs to listen to heavy riffs played at heavy volumes. Those are the moments I reach for the Bong.

Bong specialise in acrid drone riffage, as if channelling ancient unknown energy sources. However, what transmogrifies their sound is the use of the sitar, which can both drone into cosmic infinity, but also cut through the sulphuric sludge of their down tuned monotony.

Bong’s seismic, slabs of stoner rock lava have been steadily rolling recordings down the side of the volcano since 2006. They first came to my attention last year when I happened by chance to see a mind dementing live performance.

The experience was enough to teach me that these were great druids and that I should be their acolyte. I hastened to the altar of the merch table and purchased Bethmoora and their self-titled LP, two particularly sulphurous emissions which clogged my ears like solidifying lava.

Since then I have devoted myself to their lore, and also that of the myriad of sects to which these Druids belong. Students wishing to become disciples should hasten to Lobster Priest, Master Slave, Basillica, and Obey.

Preferred drink: Fuller's 1845.
Bong: Black Bong of the Wizards

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stephen O'Malley + Steve Nobel | Marcio Mattos - Cafe Oto, London, 18 August 2010

In a record shop I like to frequent they have a section labelled 'Pretentious Art Metal'. It's here that you'll find albums by Stephen O'Malley's Sunn O))) and other bands on the Southern Lord or Hydra Head roster.

Whilst record shop staff are notorious for their snobbery, the instructive part of this tale is that nothing fails as awkwardly as a project with delusions of grandeur. So the two night residency of O'Malley and jazz drummer Steve Nobel is either going to be a triumph or something a long way short of that.

Before I can pass verdict we are treated to a solo cello performance by Marcio Mattos. He swiftyly switches between bowing and plucking in the staccato, jerky, style I can only, for the lack of the correct musical terminology, describe as modern classical. It's spellbinding and within a few minutes Mattos has even silenced the crowd by the bar.

He's also rigged his cello so that he can manipulate the sounds he creates with some additional sonic effects. My distant position in the audience prevents me from seeing how he does this. This allows Mattos to introduce spacey noises like a 1970s computer before he drops in a heavy bass 'whoom', a completely unexpected noise from a cello.

Steve Nobel immediately launches in to a rapid fire, schizophrenic, drumming. He flits across his kit in a hyper kinetic way, all energy and blur. O'Malley meanwhile seems to be trying to work out a chord based puzzle on his guitar. Deploying sluggish riffs in a way which provides tonal colour.

I wait for the performance to coalesce, but it never does. Nobel works his kit furiously, the variety and dexterity of his playing is something to witness. However, O'Malley's sonor ping riffs come across for the most part as if he is trying to tune his guitar.

Fundamentally this pairing doesn't work. Which is a little odd given that they have both played together in Aethenor. But in this setting they simply don't mesh. Nobel's drumming requires a more active guitarist, someone more able to duel and spar, or take the lead. While O'Malley needs a less intrusive percussionist, someone who can give his guitar playing more space to unfold and expand.

Preferred drink: Kernel's London Porter.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ikue Mori | Chris Cutler | John Butcher - Cafe Oto, London, 14 August 2010

The last time I saw Ikue Mori playing Kim Gordon was wrapped in foil and writhing around at the front of the stage. I’d consider myself fortunate if I saw something half as memorable.

This is the last night of 3-day residency by Mori. Her collaborators have changed from night to night. This evening she is joined by percussionist Chris Cutler and saxophonist John Butcher.

The first set consists of three duos involving all the players.

Mori is uses a laptop. Triggering samples of science fiction inspired bleeps and whooshes. Butcher plays submerged sax squeals. Muting the power of the instrument and firing intermittent clusters of notes.

Cutler has customised his drum kit. Leads and wires run off to a table next to him. It’s covered in percussive ephemera and electrical gear, allowing Cutler to produce a simply extraordinary range of tones and textures.

For all these musicians skill, they sadly don’t play with enough volume for the venue to feel they can keep the bar open during sets. My failure to obtain a drink it the only low point.

The most effective performances are Mori’s duos. The interaction and responsiveness between the musicians seems particularly high.

In the second set they play as trio. Something about this grouping doesn’t quite work for me. It’s a set of moments. There will be a wonderful passage, but then whatever alchemy that had occurred will disappear.

At the end of the gig I too should disappear. Unfortunately, I have stock-piled beer a little too effectively, and as the venue empties I have to stay behind and finish my work.

Preferred drink: Kernel's London Porter.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Silver Apples - The Luminaire, London, 8 August 2010

In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have gone. Watching Silver Apples left me feeling sad.

Their set began oddly. A short film about the band reminded us of their innovation, how they’d fallen through the cracks, only to be rediscovered 30 years later. And then, just as it’s meant to end happily, tragedy.

I’m not sure why we’re played the film. Maybe 30 years in the wilderness breeds insecurity. But it feels as if Simeon is trying to educate us or justify his status. He should remember we’ve chosen to be here. It’s preaching to the converted.

Simeon comes onstage to a warm welcome. The music, barring a few updates here and there, is close to the sound on their classic records, but not quite there. Injury limits Simeon’s playing ability and age has weakened his voice. It’s like a ghoulish karaoke.

The audience receive the songs with warmth. I don’t begrudge Simeon the applause or resent the crowds judgement. If they shared mine then this would have been a sour experience. However, for me no accumulated amount of goodwill can disguise the poverty of this gig. And it gives me no pleasure to report that.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Graham Lambkin | Call Back The Giants | Helm - Cafe Oto, London 6 August 2010

There are a small number of artists who are very special to me. And when I go to their gigs, the performance is almost an irrelevance. It is enough simply to know that I am in the same room with them.

This performance is one of those opportunities. And in the case of Graham Lambkin a rare one. I have followed his singular body of work for a long time. Tonight he will be reading from his recent poetry collection. But first there are other artists performing on who it’s interesting to report.

Helm is a very neatly dressed young man. He starts his set with a lovely long open drone. Like the sound of electricity pylons nicely amplified. Resting on a small snare drum is an upturned cymbal. A small metal object rests on it. Possibly a contact microphone. Harsher metallic drilling noises are added. Presumably from the vibration of the cymbal. Then again, that stuff might just have been left there and is playing no part in the set. There is a claustrophobic feel to the sound. As if a submarine is crushed whilst an alarm clock rings unendingly. Or if a rusty door hinge screams as it is slowly tortured.

As if the presence of Graham Lambkin were not enough, the late addition of Call Back The Giants is an exciting bonus. They are the new project of Tim Goss who, like Lambkin, is an alumni of The Shadow Ring. The spectre of that band looms over his set. The distinctive primitivism keyboard sound harks back to their classic albums. Surreal dark tales are narrated in a blank deadpan. Goss is joined for the first half of his set by, I am guessing, his daughter. She helps weird out his keyboard sounds and her young voice counterpoints Goss’s bleak intonations. Like the greatest Shadow Ring moments it is uncomfortable, unsettling, unique.

Whilst Goss carries the Shadow Ring torch Graham Lambkin’s career has continued to move in the directions heralded by their later records. In Transmission and then in his own solo work he explored tonal soundscapes and musique concrete.

This evening though he is here to promote the publication of 'Dripping Junk' a book of his drawings. That’s not going to make a performance so he reads from his poetry collection ‘Dumb answer to miracles’, published in a tiny run last year.

The poems are very short. Providing Polaroids of Lambkin’s mind which seems phase shifted to a reality slightly out of sync with our own. The ordinary is made odd, the familiar, peculiar. Several poems cause the audience to laugh but never confidently. There is always a flicker of doubt. Is this a serious or humorous observation? Does my laughter betray a failure to engage intellectually? I embrace the ambiguity.

Lambkin downs four large whiskies during his set, observing: “It’s thirsty work.” The readings are punctuated with what sounds like a child’s recorder being played. The poor acoustics of the recordings distort the sound, adding to a uneasy, haunting, melancholy. As I make my way home through the night one line echoes in my mind: “We are all complex piss.” I do not understand it. But the pleasure of Lambkin’s work is in the attempt to decipher it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Zs | Temperatures - Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1 August 2010

The Whitechapel Gallery is a tiny space. Tucked away up an easy to miss alley. Gigs here have a secretive feel.

Temperatures are a duo. Bass guitar and drums. The drummer also has a massive block of electronics which looks like it last used by NASA in the 1960s. The two-piece have a hyper dense sound. Dense bass fiddling battles with percussive drum rumble. I struggle to work out what the electronics are adding. Definitely something. The bass work is murky, thick, intense. Meanwhile the drums clatter away like a box of pots and pans thrown downstairs. In a good way.

The lights are turned off for Zs set. Random patterns and colours are projected onto the band. The effect is like an epileptic lava lamp. Zs set begins with a guitar duet. Complex, math-y, playing. They stop. Then saxophone adds dry note runs and squiggles. The drummer, playing without cymbals, taps gently. The guitars come back in playing an angular riff. They all lock-in. Repeating the malfunctioning riff while the plays muted squeals. They break out of the groove for some flashy playing, but they always return.

They play a shorter second song. Beginning with a syncopated handclap. Over which the guitarists add a quiet metallic twanging. Then they erupt sax jizzle, hard drumming and guitar riffs.

It’s jazz, rock, and prog. It’s also none of these things. I am at least sure that it’s good.