Messthetics, Lesson #423
Portman Green Room, Bournemouth
Damn. It doesn't get any more DIY than this: CD-Rs sold off a table; people crammed into a pub backroom, in various states of soberness; two tables in front of a stage, alive with wires and magic electronic boxes. Robotdog, two men (one looking suspiciously like Vini Reilly), a laptop, and a bass guitar summon up dream-drenched electronica amid the audience chatter. Hunched over their instruments, channelling the spirit of Selected Ambient Works-era Aphex Twin, fed through their own filter of soporific bleep-noise, they segue from one song to the next, the audience only clapping in the sporadic lulls. Hmm, they’re not that animated, are they? But we never listened to shoegaze for animation: closing your eyes, letting the sound wash over like an opium haze, bopping gently along to the tidal patterns of beats, bass and cymbals, it’s just right. But then, a change: a slow build of speed, honeyed noise crackling through the speakers like a far-off maelstrom in this submarine world, growing into the transfixing, howling death-throes of some monstrous creature, finally lapsing into a wistful silence.
Rasmus Clausen take to the stage now, five men playing about twenty instruments (including a djembe!) between them: constructing songs from languid acoustic lines, synth-work switching between melody and noise, understated percussion, Miles Davis-esque trumpet and scraping laptop interjections (concréte blocks, clouds of spectral feedback, deadpan ghost-voices, including what I’m sure were the noble tones of William Burroughs). Their stage presence matched the hypnotising swirl of the music, the two percussionist/guitarists sucked into the liquid, drifting sway of the music; their trumpeter, who also makes noise tracks under the marvellous name of Sadistician, was a spectacle on his own: 6-foot-something, mohawked, in a Sunn O))) t-shirt, breathing out some of the most quietly powerful trumpet I’ve ever heard. Whilst, admittedly, the separate parts avoided coherence on occasion, there were more than enough moments when the sound became more than the sum of its components, a continually-flowing swirl of abstract beauty, bristling with tension.
A whole host of new equipment is dragged on, and the crowd really stand up for local heroes True Swamp Neglect. Guitarist/singer Chris, who runs the Reckno nights, mutters "I think we’re ready", as the band blast into the bracing sludge-metal intro to ‘Dry Eyed Riot’. The band seem to have shaken off the slight sheepishness of the last time I saw them, and deliver the most shameless, satisfying rock-out I’ve heard all year: caught in the middle of a loving home crowd, trying not to get in people’s view, I’m reduced to my usual spastic thrashing as they power through the song’s epic vistas, the staccato riffs and chant-along lyrics of ‘Foam Strut’, a subdued and abstract ballad ("If I had a hook in my mouth/Would you/Take it out?" – I heart that lyric so badly) and what I think was a cover of The Hold Steady’s ‘Stuck Between Stations’ (conducted with a fine swing, I have to say). By this point Steve Potatoes and one of the indie girls down the front are chanting "One more" at the end of each number. The band begin another Pavement-wayward indie-rocker, slowly developing until, when the lyrics run out, it alchemises into a rave-up of Sonic Youth (circa-Daydream Nation) proportions: Chris with his back to the crowd, throttling his guitar into submission; guitarist number 2 crouching in front of the amp, my shouts of "Violate the fucker!" unheard in the onrushing wind of feedback, the crowd going wild at the front, the drummer doing what looked like his best Animal (of Muppets fame) impression, everything balancing on the knife-edge of total chaos, finally collapsing into feedback and an ongoing drumbeat. They’re not getting off without an encore: they finish with a slow, mantric number, the chiming guitars picking their way delicately through the rubble.
"Germlin will be on in 5-10 minutes!" Chris tells us, as they step off stage. Will he, now? After a short break in which Steve Potatoes tried to sell me Skitanja’s shoes and I struggle to order a coke, Joe Germlin is, sure enough, limbering up; his equipment sits on a table just to one side of the room, laptop, mikes and effects boxes giving him enough sound-warping ability to kill your average pachyderm. He normally performs as one half of Gay Against You, infamously described by Terrorizer as ‘A council estate Butthole Surfers.’ That’s the kind of recommendation worth repeating. He beckons "you guys, standing in the door" to come around, the purpose of the evening’s entertainment being, after all to "have fun". That’s when the screaming starts.
Skull-cracking gabba beats and alarm-siren rave stabs rain down like a storm of nails. Germlin thrashes like a sugar-saturated three-year-old, bouncing around the circle of maddened bodies. By the end of the second song he’s on his back, heaving into a contact mic, raising up clouds of sucking noise. As he gets up, I pray that the pool of liquid on the floor is water, rather than sweat. Songs shoot by, seemingly hundreds of shots of ADD destruction, juddering cut-and-paste blurts of noise and incomprehensible howling, like an Amiga soundtrack reprogrammed by Whitehouse; Germlin crawls across the floor, mike-in-mouth, an 8-bit sorcerer conducting a ceremony of FUN; the other mike is passed around the sweating audience, who shout for all they’re worth; a "house remix" of a German band (no, not the fucking Klaxons, who we collectively take the piss out of) turns out to be another clamorous banger; Steve urges me to put away the camera and dance; the other two photographers are getting sucked into it, twitching rhythmically with the best of them. It’s like doing a marathon at sprinting speed: "This shit hurts", as Germlin says. By the time we seem to be nearing the end, we’re past the exhaustion point, moving on adrenaline alone. The final number, another triple-time rapid-fire blast of noise, lapses into silence. Then starts again, at double speed. He closes the laptop lid. I feel half-dead, sweat dripping from every pore. So this is what fun feels like. I should really do this more often.