Friday 12 September 2008

S.C.U.M - Shoreditch Church September 11th

It is getting dark as I approach the church. Outside, gaggles of black-clad people mill about. As do various members of Shoreditch’s homeless community, who are confused by the crowds of strange looking folk who have usurped the steps of St Leonard.

It is a stunning choice of venue – a working church, complete with stained glass windows, pews and a grand altar, details of which can be seen in the flyer reprinted above. The acoustics in this place are marvellous – so marvellous that when I wake up the following morning I am as deaf as a post.

Piles of speakers and other musical equipment have been set up in front of the altar. Washes of dark noise crash through the building as a DJ hides from sight.

The audience wanders through the church, sitting randomly in pews, talking round the font, dancing in the nave. They are having fun, and alcohol is available, but there is a sense of respect here, and no one is going TOO mad.

The girls who comprise An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump begin their set. There are three of them, swathed in black. At any particular time, one will pound out a thunderous tattoo on a snare, one will lay down a subterranean rumble of bass and one will stand alone between them to sing. After most songs they move around to a different position to begin the cycle anew.

The lighting tonight is superbly atmospheric, just a few scattered lamps at floor level, leading to long black shadows and threatening silhouettes. This creeping darkness lends itself perfectly to the music.

When the first band has faded into the gloom, next act KASMs takes the floor. The crowd packs tightly in front of them. KASMs live are all about the gyrations and performance antics of singer Rachel Callaghan. Other band members hang back.

For a very few moments it looks as though the surroundings will cause her to rein in her temptations. But by the second song Callaghan has fought her way into the throng and is screaming her lungs out. “I always wanted to do that in a church!” she comments.

The rest of the show is performed in similar vein. Callaghan will crawl on the floor, do pirouettes (there seems evidence of schoolgirl ballet lessons in her past) and make forays into the audience. It’s a black erotic cabaret. During the final number she flings herself violently into me, hitting and kicking.

Afterwards, I hobble away up the aisle, my shin bleeding from her stiletto heel.

The next band requires no such close attention. Spectrometers are a guitarist and an electronics operator, who generate long instrumental passages of semi-discordant noise. People walk around them as they play, but it is more curiosity than involvement. The sound they make is appropriate for the surroundings, but they are not particularly interesting, nor easily distinguishable from the music that is played in between bands.

After they are gone, things get ever more sinister. The lights grow dimmer and clouds of dry ice erupt from the floor. Hooded figures emerge from the murk, initially joined by a strange figure in a veil that leaps from the altar, parodies the crucified Christ behind him and emits heavily distorted and echoing shrieks.

This is S.C.U.M. and they are keen to make the most of these hallowed surroundings. Veil soon discarded, singer Thomas spends the whole set in constant motion, climbing walls and speakers, playing with his microphone and all the time seething and screaming.

Although tonight is primarily about the new single, S.C.U.M. do not play individually distinguishable songs. Their set is a whole, a single entity of sound that lasts some thirty five minutes. The first five minutes sound slightly uncertain, the following thirty sublime.

S.C.U.M are not easily categorised, and I like them even more tonight having seen them before. My colleagues this evening are less impressed and gradually disperse. The band’s performances are powerful but delicate constructions and occasionally threaten to teeter into the realms of the silly. The onlooker needs to buy into what they are doing, to have FAITH in the vision of the band’s art.

The band disappears back into the dry ice fog and we disperse into the night.

There is something tribal going on here tonight, a scene has emerged that has grandiose visions and romantic but terrifying notions. This is the Dark Wave. Something is rising in the East.

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