Thursday 26 March 2009

Death Cigarettes / Hook & The Twin / The Postcards / Sunlight Service Group at Mother - 25 March 2009

Death Cigs by Neil at

The big guy on the door is apologetic. The bands tonight will only run until eleven o’clock. Like this is a bad thing.

We are upstairs in ‘Mother’, a space above the vast 333 club on Old Street. It is dingy and distressed, with faded flock wallpaper. Large windows give an uninterrupted view of the traffic gridlocked outside.

After chivvying us to one side so that they can set up their video camera, Sunlight Service Group get us started for the evening. They are infectiously cheerful, if pronouncedly rough around the edges at this point. The main singer/guitarist chats throughout, while the band’s sound is dominated by a pounding organ and huge licks of wah wah pedal guitar. They also have a young girl bashing rather ineffectually on a tambourine. Despite being at all times never more than a couple of beats away from total collapse, this band show promise.

The Postcards wear their influences in their name and their checked shirt sleeves. They are proficient guitar janglers in thrall to Joseph K and The Wedding Present, although at present they lack the charisma or songs of either. They are in dangerous territory – the closer you get to aping the bands that you love, the more likely you are to be unfavourably compared to them. They need to build on what they are good at to forge their own identity.

The next act has no problems with originality. Hook and The Twin are a pair of musicians who use technology to lay down and multi-loop vocal and guitar figures to create a bewilderingly full, often choral sound, which acts as accompaniment to Marcus’ pulsing motorik drums and singer Tom’s voice, which ranges from a high falsetto to a low rasp.

The pair creates vast landscapes of sound and the audience are soon shaking and nodding their heads to the driving rhythm. Hugely impressive, particularly in a small venue such as this. At the set’s conclusion, a colleague can no longer contain his inner fan boy and hurries over to discuss equipment and techno-wizardry. It’s all in the software, apparently.

I do go to gigs OTHER than Death Cigarettes, but really, they are just so damn good that when they are on tour I gorge on their live shows like a hungry locust in a corn field. Since I last saw them a few weeks ago they have got themselves fully back into the performance groove and are in top form tonight.

The set starts as usual with bassist and guitarist wandering about the venue thrashing their instruments. The drummer is in the other room and he eventually wanders behind his kit to kick things off in earnest. As their sonic violence grows, singer Maya erupts from a startled audience, howling and tearing at her hair. Despite her anguished wails of “Please don’t leave me by myself!” the more sensitive souls present scuttle off to hide in the room next door.

The audience plays a key role in a Death Cigarettes gig, whether they want to or not. They are shepherded around the venue, they are entwined in miles of microphone lead, they are pushed, bullied and prodded and generally abused. And they love it. And if they don’t love it, it gets even more interesting.

A particular highlight of tonight’s performance is a girl hurrying back from the loo, trying to avoid the bedlam around her, who walks smack into a taught lead and virtually garrottes herself. Oh, how we laugh! She’s ok, though.

Those in the other room are roundly chastised and periodically disturbed by either a singer or a guitarist. There’s no rest here for the apathetic.

Histrionics aside, the band’s set is becoming a monstrously powerful thing – tonight’s version of ‘Total Fear’ absolutely slays. And forthcoming single “Bleed You Dry” leaves you limp.

With instruments whirling round heads, the set ends. It is exactly eleven o’clock, as the big guy on the door had promised. It’s been another good evening, and as well as the various bands, it has been impeccably run – the sound has been mostly good, everyone has kept to schedule. Kudos all round.

Saturday 21 March 2009

Shrag / Violet Violet/ Town Bike at 229 18 March 2009

Heading down the stairs into the sterile environs of 229 I find that Violet Violet have just started their set. I’m just grateful to finally catch them.

This trio from Norwich has been on my wish-list for well over a year, but I’ve always been thwarted by gig clashes, non-appearances or evenings that have run so late that I have needed to be tucked up in bed before they set foot on stage.

They are worth the wait. Cheri, Fliss and Kylie know that the secret of pop perfection is a good tune allied to a good racket and they have both in spades. Songs are crisp and sharp, and none hangs around long enough to outstay its welcome. New song “C-c-cat!” is a particular highlight.

Brighton based fun bunnies Shrag follow on and the venue, which resembles a school hall, becomes even more like a cheesy disco. Possibly the natural heirs to The Chalets (and for that matter Shampoo), Shrag combine bratty nonchalance with deceptively simple songs and take the evening by the horns.

Big fun ensues. It is a sign of Shrag’s boundless creativity that with their eponymous album having only landed in the shops a mere handful of weeks ago, their set is liberally spiced with new songs that are as good if not better. Of these, “Ghosts Before Breakfast” is a real cracker.

Old favourites are not forgotten however, and probably the best song of the night is a gleeful shout along version of “Long Term Monster”.

Shrag are a band that make you smile and dance in equal measure. Any evening is a good evening when they are about.

Tonight’s headliners (rather inexplicably) are Town Bike, who are nattily attired in matching bowling shirts. They look the part of a happening band. However, once they start playing, things go awry. There is a very fine line between a band that has that indefinable quality that make you sit up and take notice and others that lack that spark and are just depressingly ordinary. For the majority of their set, Town Bike cannot lift themselves from this second category.

Not awful, but just a bit rubbish, Town Bike make all the right moves, but for the most part just grate. That said, the last two songs that they play are noticeably better than those that have gone before and it seems that all that is really wrong with them is a lack of uniformly strong material. They have identified this, because they have structured their set to finish well. They can still save themselves.

Anyway it’s been a fine evening’s entertainment. Three bands who are cheerful and poptastic, three bands who are dedicated to making sure that everyone in the room is having a good time. Check them out.

(Incidentally, while researching Myspace addresses for this piece, I got to hear Shampoo's 'Bouffant Headbutt' for the first time in years. What a tune that is!)

Monday 16 March 2009

Death Cigarettes / Breakneck Static at Tommy Flynn's 13 March 2009

TOP: Death Cigarettes (c)
Breakneck Static by Alistair Underwood

First band Breakneck Static bring their second song of the evening to a conclusion. We are about thirty seconds into their set. Breakneck they are, static they are not.

Singer Rei stands mostly motionless, clutching her mike stand. Sometimes she screams, sometimes she sings. She is the calm eye of quite a considerable storm.

The rest of Breakneck Static are crashing around the stage like drunken wildebeests, bashing into each other and thrashing the living spit out of their instruments. Striking drummer Debbie Lane wallops along, yelping into a headset, while her brother Adrian jerks and contorts with his guitar in front of her. A second guitarist Bryan is oblivious to others, careering into other band members, bent double, bouncing on the spot. Occasionally he parps down an alto saxophone. It’s bedlam.

Over the past twelve months there seems to have developed a refreshing trend away from bland pop. Evil sexy guitar mashing loudness is coming back in a big way. It’s also the case that simple tunes are being discarded in favour of complex song structures, weird time signatures and a general spirit of anything goes. It’s a hardcore punk ferociousness welded to British eccentricity.

So Breakneck Static sound like Rolo Tomassi drag racing with Melt Banana off a cliff into oblivion. Strapped to an atom bomb. Or something else wild and exciting. However you describe it, they are a mind-blowing proposition and leave you quite stunned.

They are a tough act to follow. Fortunately next up comes the first outing of 2009 for this blog’s band of 2008. Death Cigarettes are in the house and are revved up for action.

Have they still got it? Damn straight they have! Armed with a clutch of new songs they take the venue by storm. Singer Maya starts from her traditional starting place in the crowd, barging past unsuspecting punters who have gathered to see what the three guys on stage are doing. Guys who appear to be attempting to loosen our bowels with guitars thrust into speakers, provoking squalls of feedback.

Once on stage Maya stands with her arms outstretched in front of her in her patented zombie stance. Then she’s back into the crowd and the rest of the set is Armageddon.

At different times during the next twenty minutes or so we see the singer standing on tables and bar and leaping down into the crowd, the bouncers who are standing outside charging in looking confused because of what appears to be a riot going on behind them and various people happily entangled in the miles of microphone lead that the band employ for this purpose.

For reasons known only to themselves, the band have declared that this evening is ‘werewolf’ night and mark the occasion with a largely unrecognisable version of Warren Zevon’s ‘Werewolves of London’. This new version lasts about two minutes rather than nine and consists of much guitar trouncing and wolf howling.

A triumph, as always.

After these two acts, headliners Widows are pretty much boned. Their sleazy, spacey psychedelic tinged stoner rock is in sharp contrast with the spiky ten million watt voltage of the previous bands. They aren’t bad at what they do, and they have a fine line in theatrics, from smeared Heath Ledger–as -The Joker make-up to a singer who louchely gyrates like a Southern dandy. It’s just that in comparison with the young guns from earlier they seem too sedate and, bluntly, old. Not their fault, but not their night.

Breakneck Static and Death Cigarettes are the sound of things to come. It’s going to be awesome.

Monday 2 March 2009

No Cars, Fuzz Valentine, Ginkinta at 'Harajuku' 27 February 2009

No Cars pic courtesy of

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a committed Japanophile. They will therefore not be surprised that when I saw an ad for a club night called ‘Harajuku’, with the promise of Japanese bands playing, that I was on to it before you could say ‘(Shonen) Knife’.

The venue is on the third floor of a studio complex and an idea of the impermanent nature of the set up can be gleaned from the fact that the cloakroom is actually a goods lift.

A very welcome surprise is that this club is not locals having a Japan-themed party, but run by, and largely for, London-based Japanese. So events pan out in much the same way as they did at gigs on my recent trip to Tokyo and Sendai – things start politely but gradually go wild.

The first act is four Japanese guys dressed in black, with long hair obscuring their faces. They hardly have any English, so I am unable to say who they were, which is a great pity. They play a deafening, distorting, guitar-heavy psychedelic space rock, each member of the band flailing their hair all over the place and posturing as though wringing the last ounce of energy from their instruments. Above and behind them, ultra-violent anime flashes across a screen.

There are no real songs as such, more a succession of solos and wig outs. As they build towards an even more frantic finale than previously, they start to dismantle themselves, passing guitars and bass into the audience, who grab them and start to play. At one stage there are three people standing on the drum kit, pounding it to pieces. In the general melee one of the drummers loses his trousers.

Not bad for an opening. [ This band now identified as Bo Ningen. Catch up with 'em here.]

Next up come Ginkinta a.k.a. Hazel, Hannah and Alison, three girls who play a decent brand of power-pop, and who grow in confidence the longer they go on. The rattle and bang in winning fashion and are worth keeping an eye on.

No Cars share a drummer with the first band and are Haruna & Sachi, two Japanese girls in near complete kimono attire who play garage punk. They are endearingly ramshackle, make jokes in halting English and are great entertainment.

Songs are sung in a mixture of languages, often at the same time. Each track is introduced by a title card, placed in front of the band. After a rousing tune called ‘Funny Farm’, they embark on ‘No Cars Theme’. The guy who had early lost his trousers is invited to hold up the necessary title card. As the band plays he performs a wild striptease, eventually ending up completely naked, to roars of laughter from all concerned.

The evening ends with Fuzz Valentine, a rowdy combo with Husker Dü tendencies. They motor along in a fuzzy (honest!) punky style and are still going as I head out the door. I’d stay and listen, but I’ve overdone the Kirin and my bed is calling.

‘Harajuku’ seems to run erratically every couple of months. Their next night is in April. After the fun that I’ve had here, I may well be back.