As much as I have enjoyed this weekend there is a small part of me that is extremely grateful that I don’t have to go out tonight; possibly my liver or maybe my ears. Yet again I failed to get back in to Supersonic on time. The plan was to imbibe some culture (filmy/arty stuff) before getting on with gigs but by the time I’d done everything I was lucky to get in and catch the start of Cut Hands. Me and everyone else in Birmingham from the looks of it, as the Old Library venue was packed out. I wasn’t that surprised as Cut Hands is the latest outing from William Bennett of Whitehouse. If it was Whitehouse there is absolutely no way I could watch but this is a much friendlier prospect, the broad concept being tribal drumming, rather than sexual degradation screamed through a distorted mic over ear splitting feedback. I haven’t got the Cut Hands album yet but after hearing it live I intend to get hold of it. Simple drum sounds layered over each other at high volume that is initially disorientating but after a while reprograms your brain. There were parts that were pure noise and also some slower, almost melodic sections too but for the most part it was pretty fast and pretty disorientating especially when accompanied with visuals. The introductory backing visuals were innocent enough, scenes of life in Ghana in the 60’s or 70’s (I think) but then as things got more frantic we had some weird footage of what appeared to be some sort of vomiting festival with people doing weird walks and rolling their eyes with big streamers of puke hanging from their mouths and noses. Oh yeah and there was dog being skinned too. Quite disturbing when accompanied with such volume but Bennett had a whale of a time spinning round and dancing about like he was at a school disco. He obviously loves his new music and I don’t blame him.
I had half an hour to kill before Silver Apples were on and Tony Conrad sounded like something worth seeing. A solo violinist / fiddler who uses extra strings (possibly made of metal or rubber) to mess with the sound he creates. I missed the start which was a bummer because he was amazing. Looping strings and drones for himself to improvise over he swooped between cacophony and sweetness, at times sounding like a chainsaw cutting through a motorbike and at others being the single saddest sound I’ve ever heard. It was a tough one to watch because it was so noisy and emotive but the man is plainly a genius. And if I’d known what I was about to let myself in for I would have stayed till the end but little did I know….
Silver Apples have been going through a bit of a renaissance recently with people rediscovering their amazing first albums. An American band who were composed of two people, one of whom played the Simeon (an amazing home made contraption consisting of nine or so oscillators that can be played with hands, feet and elbows) and the other on drums. “Contact” their first album was a revelation to me, with simple but magically rhythmic drumming, over which hypnotic tones from the oscillators created a pulsing and extraordinarily techno-like sound. It must have been astonishing in 1969 when the album was released and they were playing to big festivals. The only qualm I have with the albums are that the vocals are somewhat … of their time shall we say, but I would totally urge anyone to get the recent re-issue of both albums. Sadly the same cannot be said of going to see them live. I started worrying when I notice there was no drum set up. “That’s ok” I thought “He’s probably got some laptop or something doing it”. So Simeon Coxe III came on and launched into one of the later songs from “Contact”, with a Native American tribal drum loop and repetitive chanted vocals except something was wrong. It sounded like something was clipping or broken so the drum loop kept skipping, his mic was way too low and his lead oscillator (for solo action) was rubbish. Not an auspicious start by any means but I still had hope. However with the second song things got even worse. The drum pattern from the first song was bleeding back through and clashing horribly with what he was trying to play and there was still the skipping issue plus it has to be said that his voice was very, very weak. He limped through to the end and then had a stern five minute chat with his oscillator. He was a lovely engaging fellow and I was willing the universe to be kind and let things work out for him, especially now that he had isolated the malfunctioning oscillator. Sadly it was not to be. The other drum parts appeared to be taken directly from the album but now he switched to programmed drums. Cue the sound of techno from 1992 with slightly atonal singing, slightly atonal oscillators and occasional wobbly noises. And it just got worse and worse. There was a spoken word thing over low end throbbing which was somewhat misguided (new material I think) and then one of the worst things I have ever seen. It sounded like he got a Casio keyboard and was playing the car horn sound whilst singing about purple balloons, occasionally twisting the theremin like lead oscillator. Scinitillatingly awful…like a children’s entertainer having a nervous breakdown. I found out today that his long standing drummer Danny Taylor died in 2005 and I imagine he doesn’t want to work with another drummer, but I could never ever recommend going to see them live based on what I saw.
Somewhat saddened I left to see what I could find to do till Alva Noto. There was only one band to choose from so I went to catch the last bit of Envy. They were busily doing pretty post rock stuff when I walked in and I thought “Oh well I can cope” but then they went all loud and shouty like a Japanese Isis who instead of thinking “well that’s epic enough” were more inclined to think “no let’s make it more epic”. Piling riff on riff they were pretty effective and although I don’t know them I would be more than happy to have a listen based on their performance. But this was just a distraction because one of my primary reasons for coming was Alva Noto and he was imminent. By this time I was starting to realise that my stamina was failing me and there was a good chance that Alva Noto would be the last thing I would be seeing. A suitable climax for events no doubt but I feel bad about missing Dj X (House of God), Byetone, White Hills and Turbonegro but it was getting tough to stay standing.
So I headed in to see Alva Noto and had my consciousness erased in a blast of sound and light that was simply incredible. The visuals were synced to what he was playing and blasts of incredible sub bass and static were accompanied by strobes and alternating rainbow colours that were mind altering. If I’d had drugs I would have done them but I’m too old and sensible now but I was a bit drunk so I was unable to stop myself doing weird electro dancing. Hopefully no-one noticed. It’s pretty difficult to describe Alva Noto’s sound. No instruments of any kind, just tones elongated or shortened to create rhythm. Sounds simple but creates a surprising range of things for him to play with and when played at maximum volume it becomes a totally amazing thing. The highlight of his set was a tune consisting of a synthesised voice intoning acronyms over juddering industrial bass, a bass that was so strong I couldn’t get my camera to focus and take a picture. Or maybe I was too pissed either way it was awesome and when he finished up (to huge applause) I knew I was finished. I could have caught some more stuff but I was tired and drunk and a little bit ecstatic and I thought anything more ran the risk of being an anticlimax. So I headed off home with my ears and brain slightly malfunctioning.
I had an awesome weekend and even though I don’t want to go anywhere for a while, round about next summer I’ll be starting to get excited about the next one. Thanks Secret Chiefs 3, Klaus Kinski and Alva Noto but more importantly thanks Capsule.