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diskant rewind: Mild Head Injury #13

Posted: October 7th, 2008, by Simon Minter

(Originally posted October 2002)

Mild Head Injury by Simon Minter

Without sounding too self-obsessed, I think that for this column I’m going to run through ‘the events of September 7’… that is, the AUDIOSCOPE festival, which I helped set up and which featured (among others, obviously) the band which I’m in. Is that self-obsessed? Am I self-obsessed for worrying about whether you think I’m self-obsessed? Arg. Oh well. If you don’t like it, turn off your TV and go and do something less boring instead, or something. Anyway, word up, it was a fine fine day and despite me obviously enjoying things in that certain special way which came from having helped make it happen, I was consistently to be found standing open-mouthed in front of bands thinking “wow, this band is actually something special…” A result, as they say! And it looks we raised about three thousand pounds for charity, too! (The charity being Shelter, who want everybody in the country to have a proper home, a worthwhile and honourable cause I hope you’ll all agree).

Anyway, first up was my band (me! me! me!) SUNNYVALE NOISE SUB-ELEMENT, and we played either (a) a stunning set of mindbending electronified existential punk rock music with effortless precision, or (b) a somewhat disappointing set marred by ‘bad sound’ (honest!), albeit with some very pleasant slides being shown at the same time. Take your pick from these decisions based on whether you (a) didn’t see us, or (b) did.

DUSTBALL appeared on stage next, with a surprisingly early slot (due to some rock and roll commitment or other) for one of Oxford’s favourite bands. Now I’ve seen Dustball play live a few times before, and always found them to pleasantly amiable, like a more raucous (early-) Ash or a less angry Hüsker Dü, like all catchy melodies and choppy chop chop noise guitars and so on. But this time, I’m not sure what it was, maybe they’d just had their Ready Brek or something, they were absolutely blindingly spot on! Fiercely confident in their songs and treading the thin line between audience-pleasing and audience-baiting. I know that they play live, like, 5 times a week or so, but they seem to have suddenly magicked up a stunner of a show which has let them become (to me, at least), a ‘real’ band instead of a ‘local’ band.

Next up SOUVARIS got us all mellowed out and touchy-feely with some long, long, epic, building, Mogwai-esque, er, ‘passages of sound’ which never slipped into the post-rock hole of boredom and repetition for its own sake. Very very competent musicians for such cheeky young scamps, too. And a mastery of (a ridiculous range of) effects pedals, which shaped the guitar sounds into symphonic-sounding, otherworldly, sorta mournful echoes, rather than making the band sound like Ozric Tentacles (which would have happened with me controlling the pedals – and it wouldn’t have been a good thing, by the way).

FIGHTING RED ADAIR came all the way from Scotland to play our gig! And it was the first time they’d played outside Scotland! Wowee. They also appeared to survive on no sleep whatsoever for the period of their stay, and displayed an impressively literate knowledge of the Transformers myth. They made a right ol’ bloody racket on stage, a Shellac-like intensity of sound melded into OXES weirdness and structurally unfeasible-seeming songs. I can imagine them seeming quite frightening, switching from ‘cheeky audience banter’ to ‘screaming my fucking lungs off’ at the drop of a hat. Jings, indeed!

CAT ON FORM came all the way from Brighton to play our gig! Unfortunately that’s not as impressive as coming all the way from Scotland, but we love them for doing so and I personally am very very glad that they did. They are totally awesome live, dude! On recorded material they’re pretty fierce, don’t underestimate that, but on recorded material you can’t see the insanely passionate punk vocal intensity, the literally-crawling-around-the-floor ‘lost in music’ antics, the skinny Minor Threat stylings, and so on. Anthony ‘I used to run Factory, you know’ Wilson was sniffing around backstage with an interest in them, so you’d better see them play live soon before they sell their souls to the man! (ho ho). And big thumbs up to them for taking the time out to talk a little bit about the cause the day was raising funds for.

Oxford’s EEEBLEEE were up next, bringing the mood around to a more slinky and electronic one after all that raucous punk rock energy. They have a strange lineup of double bass, synthesiser (do people still use that word? It’s SO 1980s), vocals and a proto-Steve Vai on guitar. It’s all moody sounds, slowed hip hop beats and cloying atmosphere ’round their way, and interestingly enough I can’t really think of anything to compare them against. Which can only be a good thing. The only thing that springs to mind is that they sound like what trip-hop would’ve been like if it wasn’t an absolute shower of shite. (Well, it was, wasn’t it. THINK ABOUT IT!)

APPLIANCE are officially Nice People In Rock – they’ve got a real, proper record deal and everything, but didn’t spend the day ordering fresh cocaine and foie gras whilst summoning their people to sprinkle rose petals in front of them, like Oasis definitely would have done had we agreed to let them play. (Legal note – in truth, we wouldn’t have let them…) Musically they sound like the Spacemen 3 of the future; really really precise music with a glidingly cool feel to it, repetitive to the point of interest rather than boredom, yet never seeming emotionless or sterile. I officially Liked Their Set Very Much. It was a gift from rhythm heaven!

There was much awed tension before NOUGHT came on, as they have this whole ‘legends of Oxford music’ thing going on, which turned out not to be at all misplaced, from the evidence of their absolutely blisteringly amazing set. They’ve got very complicated songs in a Beefheart/King Crimson kind of vein – but through a Sonic Youth filter – as if their musical ideas flow directly from the brain through the instruments, but the main thing for me was the sheer intensity of sound they made… It was a constant onslaught of fiercely, confrontationally weird noise (including a power drill solo at one point, interestingly enough) which still somehow managed to remain understandable and logical, whilst searing the front of your head off with sheets of tuneful-yet-frightening noise.

PRAM finished off the day’s proceedings in a calmful manner – like dozing off after the Nought Terrors and having strange dreams about teddy bears and glockenspiels – and although I’m ashamed to say that alcohol had begun to upset my listening skills by the time they played, I remember them being as charming and plinky-plonky-funny-scary as they are on record. Such an individual band, Pram. Soundwise they are (kind of) reminiscent of Laika, Th’ Faith Healers and Can, but they seem so committed to sounding like playtime in the most frightening pre-school on the planet, and have such a distinctive-sounding singer, that it’s hard to describe them in any way except Pram-like.

And that was that. Not a bad day, really… roll on next year’s AUDIOSCOPE which I’d be more than happy to see with exactly the same lineup as this year! Naturally that won’t be the case though – we’re going to get Sonic Youth next year, you see if we don’t.

Simon Minter

Simon joined diskant after falling on his head from a great height. A diskant legend in his own lifetime Simon has risen up the ranks through a mixture of foolhardiness and wit. When not breaking musical barriers with top pop combo Sunnyvale Noise Sub-element or releasing records in preposterously exciting packaging he relaxes by looking like Steve Albini.


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