see the photos from this concert here

Miss Pain
Freebutt, Brighton
Friday February 25 2005
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

In a small pub tucked away behind the Phoenix Gallery in a Brighton back street, eighties electro, gleeful kitsch, and twenty-first century art-pop are colliding like quarks in a particle accelerator.  Weird un-rock music plays through the PA; a slide projector is being set up. Mills and Boon romantic novels are scattered about - revealing, on close examination, sundry hand-penned alterations to the text. And somebody’s handing out bingo cards. This, obviously, is not yer usual gig. Nope: it’s an evening of marvels assembled by Brighton’s electro-glam racketeers Miss Pain, who are not so much a band as a fully-assembled entertainment experience. And, as it happens, they’re first on stage tonight.

Miss Pain look like they took a wrong turn on the way to the disco. There are three of them: a bloke on guitar, who with fine disregard for the style police is wearing a splendidly pink skinny tie, and two girls in what would be fashionable party finery, if this were 1982. They arrange themselves amid vintage synthesizers - the kind that come in wood veneer cabinets, and have chunky knobs that must be twiddled in order to emit noise, and promptly swing into a set of tunes in which vintage Cabaret Voltaire bloops and squiggles dance mightily to a mutant disco beat. Over all this the guitar schlangs, clangs, fuzzes and grinds, and generally tries to assert its authority, like a schoolteacher vainly trying to keep order in a boisterous playground. The lyrics - strange vignettes of behind-the-net-curtains British life, as far as I can tell - are delivered in a deadpan, narrative style by a nice young lady in a silver dress, who takes up a megaphone to make sure we don’t miss a thing. They have a song called ‘Electric Blue Fire Hazard’ which seems to be an anthem in praise of, erm, undergarments manufactured in synthetic fibres - essential wear for the suburban British bedroom. Meanwhile, visuals flicker on the screen behind the band. If all this seems like very early-eighties, John Peel show stuff - well, that certainly does seem to be where a lot of Miss Pain’s influences are coming from. But they have a secret weapon: everything comes wrapped in wit and humour. The band are ever-ready to laugh at themselves, their kitchy retro aesthetic, the temperamental vintage synths, even the collapasing microphone stand. They could never do that dour, long-raincoat eighties electronica thing, because they’re just too much of a glittery pop group. It’s this combination of art-punk electro influences and disco glitz, the opposites-attract mash-up of severe electronics and pop gaudiness that works. Miss Pain are a shimmer of guilty pleasure.

Then it’s bingo time. Personally, I’m all for games of chance occurring in any suitable interval at a gig, and any band which can get an entire audience squinting in unison at bingo cards certainly gets my vote. The winner accepts his lavish prize (two tea towels) with well-feigned delight, and then it’s time for Stazi.

Stazi come from Manchester, and they’re a gloriously illogical collision of influences so disparate you have to wonder what strange conjunction of planets allowed them to exist in the first place. Think of a torch-song version of Kraftwerk; think of two new wave surrealists gatecrashing karaoke night in a Lancashire working men’s club. Think of The Fall, as remixed by Giorgio Moroder. Think, if you can bear it, of Morecambe and Wise doing performance-art disco. Stazi, in short, are not a normal band.  Come to that, they’re not any sort of band. They’re an experience, a turn, an aberration, a loophole in reality. And fortunately, given that this sort of stuff can so often fall flat, they’re actually rather good. They comprise two well-dressed gents in pinstripes. One sings with a kind of wild-eyed desperation, as if it’s all going horribly wrong but he’s determined to get through the performance somehow, while his colleague pokes hopefully at a toy keyboard. (‘Are you miming?’ asks someone in the crowd, mock-incredulous. ‘Miming? Never! See for yourself!’ asserts the keyboard player, passing his entire instrument, unencumbered by any wires, out into the audience.) The music, rolling thunderously off a backing track, is a punchy, groovy, electronic rumble, and the vocals, a bashed-up soulful holler, suit the tunes just fine. Here’s the essential fact about Stazi which, ultimately, makes what they do work: somewhere underneath all the weirdness and the wildness and that studied anti-band approach, there’s actually a bona fide pop group trying to get out. They have a song called ‘Walk Of Shame’, about wending your way home in the small hours, realising another night of your life has been pissed up the wall to no avail, and a genuinely affecting take on the old soul tune ‘The Drifter’. They  throw out a rumbustious glam-stomper of an anthem entitled ‘How Sleazy Do You Want It?’, upon which the Stazi boys suddenly sound like they’re challenging Soft Cell to a fight. They even sample Guns ‘n’ Roses, and, don’t ask me how, succeed in making Slash’s guitar riffs sound entirely natural amid the electronic brew. The entire performance is loud and ludicrous and manic, and I can imagine under more conventional circumstances might seem deliberately antagonistic. But here, amid Miss Pain’s surreal party atmosphere, it works.

see the photos from this concert here


Miss Pain:

The Freebutt:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: