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Posted: October 3rd, 2004, by Chris S

Yesterday I got to play guitar for Damo Suzuki as part of his Network for the 2nd time at the Audioscope Festival in Oxford. I think this in itself sets up the day as being fairly weird but the day was just that. Weird. In post-gig-comedown-stroke-depression-at-going-back-to-work-coupled-with-boredom I thought I would write about what it was like.

When Damo recorded “Mother Sky” with Can I was minus 7 years old. Playing with him is a huge headfuck for that reason alone. The other colossal reason that doing this fries your brain is that it is totally spontaneous and unplanned. You literally get up there and play. Damo does this night in and night out as part of his “Never Ending Tour” where he goes around the world hooking up with groups of musicians to improvise with. When he booked his Nottingham show the promoter Anton got in touch and forwarded an email from Damo outlining what would be required by his band for the evening. I think it was along the lines of being “sound carriers” prepared to engage in “Metaphysical Transfer”. That Anton thought I would be the man to ask is something I am eternally grateful to him for.

So I got in touch with as many people as I thought would be into this that I knew and we ended up with Neil from Bilge Pump, Elvis from Twinkie on drums together with Phil, Neil and myself from Wolves Of Greece.

We went and had a get together the weekend before the Nottingham gig and just worked out what sounds we wanted to use but mainly we just jammed a bit and chatted. We couldn’t preplan anything because I think Damo would have sussed us out and tripped us up if he could so we just tried to have fun and get comfy.

The gig itself was nuts. I think we all individually freaked out at soundcheck and had to take some sort of huge breather to calm down. We had lots of equipment problems when we got there so we were quite fraught when we met Damo out of his cab from the station. Soundcheck was a combination of normal boring muso shit like “Is my amp sounding good?” and “Can I have some more drums?” coupled to “FUCKING HELL I’M PLAYING WITH DAMO SUZUKI FROM CAN. AND HE SOUNDS JUST LIKE DAMO SUZUKI“.

Like he wouldn’t…

The gig was twice as crazy. Damo had found a willing co-conspirator in Elvis and had managed to get most of us fairly well stoned beforehand so there was much giggling and good humour before we went on which I was really thankful for as I was shitting it. We’d been out watching the support band earlier and had been speaking to some of the older local music fans we know and they had no idea we were playing and were actually quite surprised to see us there as though Damo and Can were out of our listening league let alone our playing league. So I was fairly nervous that I was not worthy.

Damo asked us beforehand if we had any plans for starting. We didn’t. He told us

“I will jump. When I am in air: SILENCE. When I land: SOUND”.

Which we all immediately forgot.

And then it was over. We got signalled we had 5 minutes left and I was like “Shit, we’ve only played 30 minutes”. In fact we played 75.

People seemed to dig it. One internet commentator expressed an opinion that we weren’t local and were blatantly his backing band and had rehearsed it all. I take that as a compliment. I thought it was OK after playing but listening back to the bootleg that Ian Scanlon made I am pretty chuffed.

So we got signed up to Audioscope as well which was yesterday. A soundcheck at 12 o clock meant leaving Nottingham at 8am to go via breakfast at Elvis’ in Derby. We drove round Oxford for ages looking for the Cowley Road and the Zodiac and cursing about Oxford in general.

We finally got there and Damo was already there so it was a case of getting the gear in and almost immediately running through a quick check minus Neil on drums as he was getting the train later. It was all really cool and relaxed and we hung out blowing up Shelter balloons and getting reacquainted with Damo before heading for food and some guitar shop browsing with Damo in tow. Sonic Youth were on the TV in one shop and Elvis asked him if he dug the Youth to which he replied that Thurston is a good friend of his. Eeek.

We got back to the Zodiac in time to see Sunnyvale Noise Sub Element who were very, very loud. My personal taste in music means I always like human drummers but then again my personal taste in music means I like anything thats very, very loud so SVNSE were a good way to kick things off.

The atmosphere was cool all day and we spent most of the day milling about munching on nibbles and drinking body temperature Carlsberg Export and chatting to the other bands.

The room backstage was rammed all day with people and equipment. I think for the 5 of us it was just different to be headlining something and to have this kind of atmosphere. It was fun. We’re all used to rushing to gigs, playing first and getting drunk. This was like a weekend excursion to the country, plenty of food and loads of time to spare.

All the bands were cool, Vibracathedral Orchestra stood out and they seemed like awesome people too. Ditto for The Telescopes who finished their set by drilling through an amplified electric guitar.

We decided to go for a stroll and ended up on the roof of the Zodiac at one point, the 5 of us and Damo sitting in plastic school chairs, staring at the night sky while Elvis ran around drumming on anything that would make a sound. Until we got kicked off by security that is as the roof is unsafe. Could have been a serious way to make an entrance.

Oxes really got the place going, it seemed like they were the natural headliners in terms of being a draw for people. This just served to make me more nervous and I’d been drinking since about 12 and it was now 10pm and was also entering into the cosmic mindset by being mashed out of my brain causing me to walk round and round in circles with my guitar case working out what the hell I was doing instead of setting my equipment up.

When I got round to this I was freaked by people snapping pictures of my pedals and hollering at Damo.

He pulled a surprise on us and jumped in the air when no one was looking apart from the drummers so our big, tight entrance was a mess of us all coming in at different times which doesn’t bode well seeings thats the only planned part of the set.

I don’t remember much about it except it was LOUD. My ears are ringing still, we were much more ROCK than in Nottingham. Elvis and Neil cooked up some insane rhythms that just fucked with my head and left me, Phil and Neil just hoping we could make sense out of them. It was like some Afrobeat polyrhythm thing and it killed my brain at times where I almost lost my balance. That may have been the Carlsberg, mind.

We listened to Queens Of The Stone Age, Mudhoney and Soundgarden on the way up in the car and every time I tried to play something subtle and cool it just came out like some Stooges rock riff. In the end I went with it and Damo seemed to dig the volume as he really wailed.

I’m not sure if people had te patience to be into 45 mins of improvised rock after such a long day but it was fun for me.

And then, immediately the day stopped being fun for an hour at least. We got bundled out into the street with our gear as the Zodiac had a club night on. Then a van with 12 police people in it pulled up. About 8 of them got out and with no real effort to understand why we were parked on double yellows (I’d have said me carrying a huge amp was their clue and the venue we were parked outside maybe?) they began shouting at us to move. I tried to ask where Gareth (our long suffering driver) and Elvis where there going to move to (you know, so I could actually FIND them and get home) and was told to “SHUT UP” by one particularly prickish copper. It seems in Oxford they have such an over subscription of applicants to the police force that they can go out of their way to hand select the most evil, inconsiderate, retarded fuckwits to make the grade.

But it worked out, we went back to Simon and Stuarts and had some more drinks with Damo and Marceline who runs some webzine or another and our mate Brum who’d come up from London.

Got in at 4am. Am knackered.

Had to share that with you so thanks.

What I wanted to say most of all is that we all had our doubts about the idea of doing these 2 improvised gigs. Damo’s attitude is if we communicate then it is a success and the people playing can truly transcend the band environment if they let themselves. Sounds like total hippy nonsense but he’s completely right, it was such uplifting fun. I want to do it again!

Chris S

Chris lives for the rock and can often be seen stumbling drunkenly on (and off) stages far and wide. Other hobbies include wearing jumpers, arsing about with Photoshop and trying to beat the world record for the number of offensive comments made in any 24 hour period. He has been married twice but his heart really belongs to his guitars. All 436 of them.


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