Tuesday 8 September 2009

Offset Festival- Saturday 5 September 2009

Berlin Brides

After the great success of last year’s event, I am delighted to attend this year’s Offset Festival, two days in Hainault showcasing the best new (and old) bands around. It’s a complete antidote to normal festival fare in that experimentation and boundary-pushing are positively encouraged.

Over the course of the weekend I saw around forty acts, so I can’t mention them all here. Let’s just go for the highlights…

In a strange piece of synchronicity, the first act I see on my arrival is the first that I saw last year. An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump are on the main stage, and in fine fettle, taking it in turns to sing, bang the hell out of a simple drum kit and blast along on a bass guitar. Having previously only seen them in gloomy churches or darkened rooms, it is surprising how well they go over on a big stage in broad daylight. A good start.

A swift detour into a tent finds LR Rockets enjoying themselves, bounding over the barrier that separates them from the crowd. The singer nearly trips over a small child who is sat directly in front of him. He smiles and waves at her and she smiles and waves back. It’s all very good natured.

Outside, various lads from Cementemental are titting about with effects pedals, screaming into loudhailers and generally being boisterous. At an event like this, such scenes are treated with the benign feeling that you might experience passing a ‘Guess The Weight of the Cake’ stall at a village fete.

KASMs are on the main stage, looking a bit lost and desperate. This becomes a theme over the weekend – I think that only relatively few of the acts who are playing in the open air quite have the chops to really put themselves across.

Inside again we are treated to a superb performance from Berlin Brides, who actually hail from Athens, Greece. This predominantly female band specialise in an upbeat electronic punk-funk that has everyone dancing along in no time. These women are genuinely earthy and sexy, in a way that the prim gals from say, Ipso Facto, are not. The songs are often concerned with bedroom matters too, notably signature tune ‘Failure To Wank’ and the tale of the bi-sexual ‘Scooter Boy’. Tremendous, smutty fun.

http://vimeo.com/6460446 from Sitcom Serf on Vimeo.

On the main stage The Chapman Family are deconstructing their songs to such a degree that they are almost unrecognisable. There is much guitar mangling and tying themselves up with microphone leads. At one point front man Kingsley slings a bottle of beer into the crowd, who throw it back at him.

Inside once more, The Duloks are entertaining a packed tent and getting everybody to pretend to be octopuses. The Duloks barely really play at all, instead they just have everyone crying with laughter as singer Mira discusses the need to have proper roadies who are old and grizzled as opposed to the catalogue model waifs who are performing these chores at Offset. There is also a prolonged riff on the ethnic make up of the audience, culminating with the observation that “This tent is fully integrated – We’ve got a black and a cripple!”

Later, I stand in a largely deserted tent, watching the very odd Tulipomania, who make a sound that is not unlike the music that bands played before punk came along and blew all that ‘serious’ nonsense out of the water. In a weekend where many bands are out to shock or offend, it is interesting that a sure way to make folk walk away is to have a thirty-plus year old man play guitar solos at them.

Future Of The Left are on the main stage and seem to be going through the motions. Ok, you’re angry, we get it. What else do you do?

The Slits will be headlining later, but until then, Wet Dog make a very acceptable substitute, being women of a certain age playing a mildly enjoyable post- funk. Being an oldster myself I can remember when Wet Dog were still so raw that the drummer had to stop a set because her arms were sore – it’s good to see them still going and having fun.

A real highlight is the performance of Drum Eyes, the occasional band led by DJ Scotch Egg and pals from Trencher and The Boredoms. Today they have two drummers and play a long, loping drawn out dubby space rock. This kind of stuff only really works in the live setting and it is great this evening. Even better, Damo Suzuki wanders on and starts intoning, eyes screwed up, in a world of his own. Wonderful stuff.

At this point our group separates, with one member opting to stay for Suzuki’s own set, while the rest head off to catch a show from R O M A N C E. And yes, the capitals and spacing are apparently important. This group are allies of fellow Shoreditch denizens S.C.U.M. (capitals, spacing etc) and like them, are as keen on presentation as music. A certain suspension of disbelief is required as while they have the foxiest bassist of the weekend, and a guitarist who has cheek bones that could slice you open, they are fronted by a singer who is as camp in looks and appearance as Matt Lucas from Little Britain and who sings in a foghorn shout that falls some way short of Kirk Brandon of Theatre of Hate/Spear of Destiny. So they teeter on the edge of absurdity, but like tightrope walkers, they are safe provided that they don’t let their guard down. On these terms they are greatly enjoyable, and I haven’t seen such a fine Flock of Seagulls haircut in a long while.

On the main stage I am unexpectedly stirred by The Futureheads, a band that I had sort of written off some while ago. Tonight they look to be in their element and actually get some decent interaction with the crowd. They finish off with Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’ and everyone has a good time.

Inside once more for Factory Floor, I meet up with my friend who stayed for Damo Suzuki. His mind is so blown by the majesty of what he has just seen that it is impossible to get him to focus or get anything coherent from him. He liked it, a lot.

Factory Floor are now a three piece, the newest member being the mighty Nikki Colk, the ex-leader of Kaito, who are still my all time favourite band. So it is good to see her in action again. Factory Floor are absolutely brutal tonight, a deafening, repetitive machine noise accompanied by relentless strobe lighting effects. They start to a packed tent which gradually empties as folk run for cover. They are impressively bloody-minded in what they do, but the experience is much like banging your head against a wall, in that it feels better when they stop.

Senses reeling, we relax with a cup of coffee and The Slits, who are capering around on the main stage, pursued by various members of the crowd and security personnel. They are ropey, ragged, silly and fun.

I’m exhausted, and this is only the end of the first day…

1 comment:

Keith Knight said...

Berlin Brides were much the best thing of the day until the Japanese contingent arrived. Damo Suzuki was such an intense experience - down the front one lived every moment with the musicians, who were improvising with him having just met him in most cases(and let's hear it for the former Ipso Facto Members). It was exhausting and inspiring. Damo didn't open his eyes for the first 30 minutes and getting him offstage was challenging as he didn't notice anyone else, such was his involvement. How great it must be to be able to do this every night, with only the vaguest notion of how it's going to turn out.

Factory Floor didn't stand a chance after this ('Candyman' after 'Reservoir Dogs') but they were interesting and had a genuine Krautrock groove for a while. But not as genuine as our Damo.

Mira of The Duloks wondering about whether she had soiled her shorts was another highlight of sorts.