see all photos from this show here   

291 Gallery, London
January 17 2003
~photos and reveiw by Uncle Nemesis

Back when I was in The Showbiz, there was a promoter's proverb doing the rounds in London: 'If it's not West One or North West One, then people won't come.' And there was a bit of truth in that. In recent years, London's live music venues seem to have concentrated themselves around certain central or north-central areas, to the point where it's sometimes difficult to persuade an audience to travel to less-familiar locations. With this in mind, putting on a gig in a converted church in the wilds of Hackney is a brave move on the part of tonight's promoters, the left-field label Operative Records. It almost guarantees that the usual gig-crowd won't show up. But then, I shouldn't think any of the bands at this gig are particularly bothered about appealing to the usual gig-crowd. This is an altogether more out-on-a-limb experience, and it's going to pull in an audience of hardy souls who probably don't give a stuff about anything 'usual'.

So, having braved the lengthy trek down Hackney Road, past all the handbag factories (Hackney seems to be the handbag manufacturing capital of Europe), we come upon a 19th century church, looming out of the streetlamp-haze in all its all Victorian Gothic majesty. Inside, having negotiated sundry items of conceptual artwork, we discover the gig. It all takes place in the towering nave of the church: there's no stage as such, just a series of wide, shallow, steps rising to the place where the altar once stood. There's also no lighting, except for the flickering images on a cinema-size video screen which rises so high over the bands it threatens to dominate the entire proceedings. It's almost as if the visuals are more important than the music here: are the video images intended to illustrate the music, or are the bands simply there to provide a soundtrack for the film show? Whether by default or design, the conventional set-up of a gig obviously isn't going to play much of a part in tonight's proceedings.

Muffpunch, as I've remarked before, are better than their name. Two besuited and masked gentlemen face each other at a table laden with electronic trickery. They blat chunks of distort-o-noise at each other, as if they're playing sonic chess. One of them steps forward and hammers and scrapes on a piece of metal with a carving knife. It's all surprisingly rhythmic and structured: at first you think they're just making an 'orrible racket, but in fact it's all worked out with more care than you'd initially assume. I'm willing to bet that Muffpunch go through all the same songwriting and rehearsal processes as any other band. It's just that their raw material and end results are...different. There's even a Burt Bacarach cover, which suffers somewhat from an inaudible vocal, but it's a nice idea, and underlines that Muffpunch do seem to have some sort of fractured respect for The Song. Throughout all this, the big screen shows a clockwork toy clown beating manically on a drum: ah, a neat little comment on machine-music, I think wisely to myself. Or maybe they just thought it looked funny. At the end of the set, the two suited figures formally shake hands across their table, as if they've just reached agreement after a discussion, some sort of negotiation-by-noise. Perhaps we should suggest this method to George Bush...but then again, no. He's got *much* louder hardware.

Naevus are a curious outfit. They're about as far away from the conventional notions of a rock band as you can possibly get...while still employing the essential ingredients of a rock band. The line-up fluctuates from gig to gig, but tonight Naevus are a two-piece, with just the core members of Lloyd James and Joanne Owen on stage. The video screen sparks into life again, this time looping still images of stuffed animals and pinned-down insects, jump-cut to resemble bizarre dance routines. Below these disjointed, agitated images, Naevus pick their way with great precision through their dryly disturbing songs. Joanne's bass perambulates its way through the songs with the focused attention of a  walker trying to avoid stepping on the cracks in the pavement, while Lloyd carefully enunciates the words in a matter-of-fact tone somewhere between a conversation and a police statement. It's certainly not moshpit-music, but there's definitely something here which grabs attention and keeps you intrigued. If Naevus are coming from anywhere in terms of influences, I'd hazard a guess that they're inspired by the more cerebral bands of the 1980s post-punk era: Magazine, Wire. They even have a song called 'Chairs Are Men' which is a *very* Wire-esque title, if you ask me. Naevus don't necessarily make immediate, accessible music, but tonight their songs demonstrate an uncanny ability to crawl under your skin.

Knifeladder are an industrial band. Except you can't just leave it there. Especially not these days, when 'industrial' seems to mean anything from mainstream metal with a few samples thrown in, to light synthpop performed by embarassingly hammy pop-star wannabees. Knifeladder are physical and experimental, more organic than mechanical; they mash up heady rushes of percussion with grumbling basslines, and hollered-out vocals which sound more like a hill farmer calling in his goats than anything remotely rock 'n' roll. Their set is a wild ride, performed in front of an old black-and-white film about the voodoo gods of Haiti, which itself perhaps clues you in to Knifeladder's approach. It's almost as if the band are trying to channel something from 'out there' rather than simply play some bangin' music for The Kids. The venue, splendidly dramatic though it is, tends to dissipate some of the band's energy, however: it all floats up to the roof, far above our heads. In a smaller space, I think the force and fire of the band's performance would be more tightly concentrated, and would rope in the audience a little more effectively. As things are, the crowd stands and watches with great attention, but the music really demands *involvement*, which doesn't really happen here. But for all that, it's a great set - energy-bolts firing off in all directions.

And then it's 2am, and time to wander off into the night. What is the bleakest experience in London? Waiting for a night bus in the early hours of a January Hackney. But for those of us who are brave enough to strike off the beaten gig-track, tonight's event proves that it's worth taking the road less travelled.

see all photos from this show here



Muffpunch: (Ludicrously out of date!)

Operative Records, promoters of the gig:

291 Gallery:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: