April mini reviews: Current 93, Merzbow, Billy Childish, Future of Sound

April 30, 2008 at 11:38 pm (extreme music, Hypnotique, live reviews)

By Hypnotique

I’ve been to a few shows lately, but as this website atests I’m a craply slow blogger so here’s a mini-selection of some of my favourite recent live shows from April 08.

Current 93 and Baby Dee, Royal Festival Hall, London

A glorified freak show filled the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall – the pierced, body-modified, elven faced underclass who truly live in the dark side. Starspotting: Sleazy (TG, Coil), big old ugly fellow. Support was by Baby Dee, a truly strange harpist and vaudeville macabre singer and deep south hick who reminded me of a bag lady version of Madge from Neighbours. Trans-gender apparently (she should get her money back). I quite enjoyed her/his falsetto quirkiness, typical of the acts David Tibet (Tibs) champions through his Durtro label like (Mercury prize winners) Anthony & the Johnsons and (tulip tiptoer/paedophile) Tiny Tim (basically, vocalists that make Tibs sound like the equivalent of Mariah Carey). No doubt Tibs is secretly fuming “it should have been me!” when another of his proteges head to the stars, collecting gongs en route whilst he lies in impoverished obscurity (or so he claims).

However, the night endorsed quite the opposite – David Tibet is the true star whose light guides others. That night he was a god, and the former members of the Temple of Psychick Youth in his band and audience worshipped at his apocalyptic alter. I’ve always had mixed feelings about Tibs/Curent 93 – I love the concept and obviously I’ve nicked/applauded many of the ideas with Hypnotique. But at its worst the music is mediocre and repetitive, Tibet self-indulgent. The email newsletters with endless updates on the health of his cat and religious beliefs were nauseous. Then there’s the stories I’ve heard from a former-boyfriend who was a former-friend of Tibs & Tony Wakeford (Sol Invictus) that did little to endear me, realising the unhealthy power of the cult leader and gang mentality which I seek to reject in my own inner-solitary way of living.

Regardless, Tibs has a rare gift of communication, of aura, of transfixing the ether. His 9-piece band (incuding Andrew WK, all a bit rough in places but generally getting the spirit) conducted by Tibs took us on a journey full of not only dark shadows but light – pathos and joy. Guest appearances by Anthony (of ‘and the Johnsons’) and a mini-set of acoustic songs about a medieval homosexual poet by Marc Almond from his new album were delightful and showed just how deeply the spirit of Tibs has infected British music culture. Almond, camp old queen he is, almost outshined Tibs with his showmanship, a perfect execution of ‘pizzazz’. I got a last minute return ticket, last seat in the house, and was sat next to an older business gent in a suit who’d got the 1/2 return tickets. He didn’t know any of the bands but said he was in town with work and decided to pop along because he liked Marc Almond. May have got quite a shock…

Tibs claims to be the reluctant performer, UK shows are very rare and he seems to want the life of a reclusive fine artist rather than an acclaimed musician (although fine, is art work is not). But that is front – Tibs is gifted to perform, uplift and take us all into his apocalyptic Catholic world of sin, penance and run with all the pretty horses between. Uplifting.

Merzbow, De Montfort University, Leicester

I’ve always won the ‘D’ for ‘Dunce’ cap, but I thought Merzbow was more of an ambient electronic act. So I got a bit of an audio noise shock at this show. It was a collaboration with what seemed like a university lecturer and his class of music technology undergrads (an all-male collection of hairy, bearded 20-something wearing a range of extrodinary head wear). They had made their own buzzy, oscillator machines inside tin cans. The performance juxtaposed segments of the students making free-improv sounds with extremely loud sonic manipulation from Japan’s “King of Noise”. He remained very stoney faced behind the laptop, and the black box theatre setting gave the performance a hushed, reverent quality befitting the academic surroundings. Afterwards I wanted to bow to him. Totally mastery of the pure digital noise manipulation, with total control. Wish I’d brought some earplugs. You know what they say, “If it’s too loud…”

Billy Childish, Art Organisation, Nottingham

Like Felix Kubin’s show in Nottingham last month, this was another less than satisfying visit by a seminal figure to be received by a less than wholesome audience turnout. “This is the last time we play in Scotland. Next time, tell your friends to come – if you’ve got any,” Childish barked in jovial cockney-fashion, unaware that actually 50 is an amazing turnout for anything here. It is rare he plays this far north, and that in itself is a lesson to build your fanbase outwards at any time in your career. Never live solely in the M25 bubble.

Billy Childish is thought to be one of the most prolific artists of the punk/post-punk generation, releasing over 100 albums, 2000 paintings and 40 poetry publications. 49-year-old Childish reflects the ‘JFDI‘ attitude of the punk era I so admire. This event at the very amazing boho, community artspace The Art Organisation was to celebrate an exhibition featuring many Childish works – mainly heavy oil textural pieces.

Childish’s band is a long-suffering vagabond trio of a lady bass player in a nurses uniform, and a big bald chap in a fez on drums. But the lithe, moutachied Childish rules the show, with plenty of wise cracking stories, impromptu performance and lots of rollicking good tunes – classic post-punk but with great hooks, great choruses and biographical stories. He said, “go home, and one day you can tell your kids and grandkids you’ve seen a real rock n roll band”. And damn it, it did feel, that maybe that night, for the first time I had.

Future of Sound, Birmingham Midland Institute, Birmingham

More lecture than gig, Future of Sound was part of the Art of Ideas event put on by a whole bunch of quangos to celebrate all things art and Birmingham. It’s been heavily blogged and collected over at Created in Birmingham – I just got a snatch of the talks night called “Future of Sound”. The two things I’d gone for (Modifield Toy Orchestra and Martyn Ware) were cancelled and the event got off to a duff start (pardon pun) with a panel led by Toy Orchestra guru Brian Duffy leading a panel of what could losesly be described as leaders in Birmingham’s sonic art scene including members of Dreams of Tall Buildings, Pram and jazz saxophonist Soweto Kinch.

The talk was a demonstration of all the wrong things about talking about Birmingham as a ‘scene’ rather than a place where people just happen to live and do stuff, and also the idea of trying to coax this out of artists in order to instill a desire for cluster, place or pride. But it was also interesting in all the amazing things under the surface happening in this sprawling city that need coaxing out from under the concrete.

Collectively, the inarticulate, scruffy blokes had nothing to say – and epitomised how I felt at 21 when I was involved in the fledgingly ‘lofi’ indie scene (led by Broadcast, Pram, Plone, Avrocar et al) and I had to make a hard decision about whether to stay or move on. I chose to move on then because I never felt I would fit in with the betrodden, introspective world of these guys. I was too young, too ambitions, too outspoken.

Yet in isolation, when the guys talked about their work they were hugely articulate and fascinating. I only caught a bit, but Dream of Tall Buildings guy talked about their experimental work including mumified tapes, handmade artwork and conceptual ways of packaging their organic sounds. Brian Duffy, a NESTA fellow and intellectual superbrain, covered the history of sound, aurally reproducing the sound of stars and the theories of relativity in 3D form, tanslated into circuit-bending speak & spell projects including programming ZX Spectrums. Damn I wish I’d taken notes, with his brains and my looks we could’ve taken over the comos by now…


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