Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Duchess Says / Bang Bang Eche / DiD at Madame Jo Jo's - 26 May 2009

Duchess Says

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much happening at Madam Jo Jo’s tonight. The pit in front of the stage is empty, and the DJ is playing a selection of prog rock classics, particularly The Nice’s version of ‘America’. Not the most apt of choices, because none of the bands tonight hail from the States, or even the UK.

First port of call is Christchurch, New Zealand and the maniac punk funk of Bang Bang Eche. They hit the ground running and never let up for a second. Frontman T'Nealle Worsley’s face is obscured by his long hair, and he is a non-stop blur of motion, leaping and prancing, or simply jumping on the spot. The rest of the band comprises keyboards, bass and guitar, all of whom switch instruments on a regular basis. The drummer looks to be about twelve.

Bang Bang Eche, don’t do ballads or slowies. Each track is a ridiculously enjoyable full-on explosion of dance. As their track has it, it's '4 to the Floor'. The band may have five pairs of feet between them, but no more than three are on the ground at any one time. The audience is drawn from the four corners of the club like ants around sugar, and soon everybody is bouncing and bopping like loons. It’s not the most original of sounds – mid Eighties bands such as EMF and Collapsed Lung have been here before- but it has such seldom been performed with such enthusiasm and brio.

The set ends with the final guitarist off the stage and in the pit. He leans against a monitor and is playfully strangled by his singer. The music stops and I can hardly tell, my ears are ringing so hard.

Long term readers of this blog will know that the album ‘Anthologie des 3 Perchoirs’ by French-Canadian band Duchess Says was my record of last year. I’ve never had the opportunity to see them live before, so I’m ridiculously excited about rectifying that tonight.

The band is dressed in black and start pounding out an ear shredding motorik of driving drums and white noise. The microphone at centre stage is unclaimed. Gradually, inch by inch, singer Annie-Claude edges into view, determined not to turn her back or disengage with the audience for a second. Her eyes are wide. She looks like a slow loris.

There follows a performance the like that I have not seen since huddled around a TV set in my youth, lusting after Kate Bush from afar. Annie-Claude ‘interprets’ every word, every beat, every keyboard skronk with a hand gesture. Her fingers clasp, stab, point and wave in a constant flurry. Her face contorts, grimaces, breaks into beaming smiles or scowls in an endless procession of emotions. At least one of my companions finds this too much, too ‘silly’, but I am transfixed.

All the songs that I raved about here are performed. The noise is astonishing. The crowd are dancing, but are also bludgeoned by the onslaught. Annie-Claude screams or rolls her eyes into her head until they are completely white. At one point, in mid song, she jumps off the stage, wanders through the back of the crowd to wish some friends ‘happy birthday’ and give them presents.

The rest of the band is having fun too. When a song requires hand claps, they beat their hands together in a gesture signifying wings, possibly a reference to the band’s own peculiar ‘Church of Budgerigar’ mythology. The bassist is playing his instrument at the head rather than the bridge. Annie-Claude meanwhile occasionally jabs at a keyboard, bent over a separate microphone that distorts her vocals even further.

After a rousing version of ‘Black Flag’ Annie-Claude pulls an unhappy face and says she is sad to say goodbye. Her eyes are streaming with tears and she rubs them to smudge her mascara down her cheeks. I had hoped that Duchess Says were going to be good, and they have delivered in spades.

The crowd dissipates before the appearance of the final band of the night, which is rather a shame. Hailing from Italy, the band too puts visual showmanship at the centre of their performance. DiD are dressed in matching yellow hoodies and alternate between dance punk riffs from guitars held level with their heads or beating wildly at various drum kits. It’s another terrific show, and puts a fine end to the best three-act bill that I have seen this year.

Going home, I am in such a happy daze that I barely mind the complete collapse of the train system (First Capital Connect, the shits), nor the ridiculously late hour I finally get home. Nor even that I awake the next day almost completely deaf. I’ve seen and enjoyed three bands that have come from far and wide to entertain me for the price of a fiver. Well worth it.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

We Are The World + Moonspoon Saloon 'White Crane' at Victoria Miro Gallery - 20 May 2009

We Are The World

To a frantic beating of drums, the band appears. They appear to be wearing doublet and hose, they have red, sombrero–like hats and their faces are masked behind long red veils that hang to their knees. Their hands are gloved in black, the fingers bizarrely elongated until they turn on themselves like talons…


A few weeks ago, I happened across the Los Angeles-based avant-garde band We Are The World. I had a listen to them and was very struck with what I heard. A check of their itinerary showed that they were playing a single UK date as part of a European tour, but that this appearance was to be as part of an exhibition and fashion show held at the Victoria Miro Gallery in London.

A few emails later and here I am, as a guest of the Moonspoon Saloon collective, admiring the strange yet appealing art works of co-founder and painter Tal R. This is an exhibit entitled Arms de Chine, which takes as its genesis a Chinese manual about ancient weaponry. The objects portrayed in the book are now so archaic that you can no longer tell what they were used for, and the artist has used them as inspiration for his own interpretations of their original purpose. To quote the Press Release there are “owls, sad penises, eggs, elegant guard women with buns, lost scouts, wrong fruits, melted minimal ice cream, sad fruits, junk and bottles, tombstones, embarrassed old uncles.” And very nice they are too.

The We Are The World performance accompanies ‘White Crane’, the latest fashion collection of Sara Sachs and the rest of the Moonspoon Collective. Talking to the band afterwards, it seems that they were rather surprised at this element of the evening, and it must be about the only time that they have not been the most outlandishly attired people in the room…

…Flash Forward.

Identically attired, the band features a percussionist pounding the living tar out of a series of electronic drums and tinkering with other items of equipment. There is a female vocalist, writhing and arching her back as she progresses down the runway accompanied by a pair of dancers/acolytes.

The ‘White Crane’ collection features bright colours, geometric shapes and allusions to ancient empires. There is an almost militaristic undercurrent, heightened by the thunderous percussion and the wearing of intricately designed medals as accessories. The costumes are extravagant, but not necessarily beyond the bounds of propriety, this is on-the-limit club wear and only the brave and the beautiful can carry it off. Sometimes the band mingles with the models, who are struggling to keep their composure amidst the tumult.

The band performs all the songs I want to hear – ‘Fight Song’, which is a potent call to arms, ‘Clay Stones’, which uses beseeching repetition to startling effect. And the mighty track ‘Goya Monster’. Halfway through the set, the veils and hats are dashed aside, to reveal bejewelled, face-covering balaclavas. It’s kind of camp terrorist chic. It’s disturbing but powerful imagery.

The audience are here for the fashion and the art, but are mightily impressed with the music. Each song seems faster and more disorientating than the last, culminating with all four members of the band hurtling and leaping into the onlookers. Sara Sachs and her collection are roundly and rightly applauded.

The differing elements of the evening’s entertainment have meshed excitingly together, the fashion, art and music fused into a complementary whole. Decadent, sure, but playful and funny too. We Are The World are phantoms, here one moment, gone the next. Watch out for them.

Monday, 18 May 2009

School of Seven Bells / Telepathe at ULU - 14 May 2009

SVIIB by Ena Yanai

When I first saw Telepathe at Catch before Christmas, the venue was so small and crowded that in attempting to see the band properly I injured my foot so severely that my doctors cheerfully tell me that I may never be entirely free from pain. However, on that night the band put on a great show.

Tonight is very different. Six months on, and the zeitgeist appears to have moved on where Telepathe are concerned. The venue is barely a quarter full. Melissa and Busy, who previously danced and interacted with their audience, have retreated behind a wall of equipment. They seem to be going through the motions.

The band is not helped by the sound mix, which is atrocious, and will remain so for much of the rest of the evening. The beats are muddy and indistinct, the vocals all but inaudible. It’s like watching a school disco in an empty sports hall.

The overall impression is of a band for whom this is not fun anymore. What started out as a series of vibrant performances for friends at parties in New York has become a six month slog around Europe. They seem as though they don’t want to be here. They need to go home and recharge their batteries.

Headliners School of Seven Bells are also on an extended sojourn to this side of the Atlantic. So far, they are standing up to the spotlight a lot better.

I have been following the fortunes of SVIIB (as they style themselves) for around eighteen months now and am very pleased to finally see them in the flesh. I am also very pleased to see how their live set-up differs from their recent recorded sound.

When the band first released demo versions of their songs, two things were immediately apparent. The first was the wonderful harmonies of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, and the second was the gently brooding, yet powerful menace of Ben Curtis’ guitar work, the two elements combining to make a unique and mesmeric whole.

However, when the band recorded their debut album ‘Alpinisms’, they made a decision that the music should all be electronic. It is not a bad record by any means, in fact it’s a damned fine one – it just lacks the edge of the earlier versions of these songs.

So it is great to see that in the flesh that School of Seven Bells have their guitars in evidence. They start off with ‘iamundernodisguise’ and the sisters’ voices are as one. The sound mix remains severely duff, but the spark is there. The room is much fuller now, and there is quiet attention.

Ben stands between Alejandra and Claudia, strutting his stuff. It’s standard rock hero posing, but relatively restrained for all that. The sound is more restful than that of his previous outfit, Secret Machines, and the company easier on the eye. The sisters are on opposite sides of the stage from each other, and I have to mentally stop looking at one and then the other to see which is the more identical, as though my eyes were following a rally in a tennis match.

The album gets a good work out. It’s all very pleasant, without being fantastic. Everyone, onstage and off, appears to be enjoying themselves. The evening passes serenely and there’s a relatively early finish.

Two bands, two different attitudes. Telepathe appear jaded, SVIIB still bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

But seriously, ULU, sort the sound out.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009


Ever since receiving a random Myspace ‘add friend’ request a few years ago from a band called Charlie Everywhere, I have been an avid fan of their work. I listened to the music, was utterly smitten and literally bought the T shirt. Finally, their first mini-album has arrived. And they’ve changed their name to something a little less awkward.

Phantogram, as they now style themselves, are a duo from Saratoga Springs, New York. They are Joshua Carter and Sarah Barthel, and they perform beautiful, if occasionally creepy, electronic pop songs. Fans of School of Seven Bells or Fever Ray should roll up, roll up and give them an ear.

The album starts with ‘Mouthful of Diamonds’, a track that that is both joyous and wistful, and as blissful a slice of electric pop as you will hear all summer. I’ve been playing versions of this for a couple of years now and it is still as fresh as the first time I heard it.

Next comes ‘Running from the Cops’ which has an incessant, nagging, almost insect-like buzz of a backing beat and a vocal from Joshua that is heavily distorted. Sarah provides ethereal “Ooh Oohs.” It reeks of paranoia. And yet is still a gloriously catchy tune.

‘When I’m Small’ has a distinctive bass guitar riff, but once more there is an electronic wash of unease. Sarah has an appropriately tiny voice on this, almost inaudible but perfect.

‘Bloody Palms’ is a more straightforward tune, with Joshua on lead for the first half until Sarah responds with her own verses in the latter stages. The guitars stutter and pop behind them, but s l o w l y.

Final track ‘Voices’ is as epic as these two get, the vocals getting ever high until supplanted by an electric drone. It’s gentle, and has Joshua whispering “What have I done to you?”

I’m a fan, so not objective on matters Phantogram. However, I think that there is so much potential here that this album is in many ways simply the end of the beginning phase of what Sarah and Joshua will achieve. The first two songs in particular make this an essential purchase. Check ‘em out now.

Phantogram is available on CE Records/Sub Bombin now.

‘Running From The Cops’ is available worldwide on BBE Records from 12th May.