Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Some reflections on the Godspeed ATP part 1

Some belated reviews of the fantastic Godspeed curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival that took place in December 2010. I did these for a major music site, but unfortunately I was the only person who submitted in the end, so they couldn't publish them. Part two tomorrow, featuring Corsano-Flower Duo and the Dead C.

John Butcher

On one level John Butcher's pieces are demonstrations of his staggering technique, but so unusual are the sounds emanating from his saxophones that the process becomes fascinating. There is a scientific quality to the way Butcher approaches the instrument (he once was a theoretical physicist) but the thoroughness of his acoustic investigations is matched by a playful and intense musical spirit. Mind-boggling moments abound, from the flighty soprano reels achieved through athletic feats of circular breathing, to the metallic split-tones which sound like Daleks and Cybermen getting it on in the Radiophonic Workshop. Most remarkable, and beautiful, is his manipulation of a feedback tone through his tenor. Holding the bell up to a microphone, he traps the feedback in his horn, releasing it by opening valves and tapping keys so that the drone is transformed into a ripple of percussive pops and clicks. Every so often he'll let the sound escape, letting it resonate in the air for a few seconds before being snatched back into the belly of his horn. A true master.

The Ex

A set of new material? In front of a festival crowd? Sheer madness! Not a bit of it. They may have been around for 30 years, but these Dutch post-punks surge ever forward, revitalised by new singer Arnold DeBoer. The lack of old favourites is never an issue, because ultimately it all comes down to the rhythm. Eschewing conventional punk attack for afro-motorik grooves and spiky, scratchy guitars, The Ex are rock's greatest dance band. Flanked by greying riff machines Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor, the boyish DeBoer is a commanding frontman, delivering breathless satirical rants and making his guitar sound like Konono No.1's electric thumb pianos. The moments where they lose themselves in the groove and run at each other like duelling stags are thrilling. But it is Katherina Blomefeld who is the true star. She's an inspired drummer, combining loose-limbed African polyrhythms with inexorable Krautrock momentum. It's fitting, then, that she should step up to the mic for the encore of 'Hidegen Fujnak A Szelek', a Hungarian folk song and longtime fan favourite. 'Theme from Konono' completes a peerless set, the band's righteous energy spreading througout the crowd.

Maher Shalal Hash Baz/Keiji Haino

On first impression Maher and Haino seem to represent two extremes of the Japanese underground: the former sweetly naive, the latter uncompromisingly dark and abrasive. But in fact, the two acts share a commitment to their individual visions, and have collaborated in the past. Maher's set is surprisingly loud, with the band joyfully stretching their charming pop tunes into lengthy Modern Lovers/Velvets workouts, all relentless rhythm guitar and parping trumpet. Throughout, Tori Kudo's skewed Syd Barrett via Beefheart guitar solos cut through the sweetness, consigning any whiff of tweeness to oblivion. Tame stuff, nonetheless, in comparison to Haino's set, which begins by subjecting a desolate blues lament to a harrowing onslaught of noise and bloodcurdling screams. Fed through four Fender amps, his guitar creates a ferocious wall of sound, vicious trebles and piercing feedback cutting through a blaze of distortion. A terrible beauty is born. The second half presents Haino as the dark prince of noise, manipulating tone generators and pedals into a raging invocation of sublime forces. Monstrous bass frequencies and thunderous drum loops rattle the rib cage, while Haino waves his hands and flails his long grey locks over some kind of Kaos Pad/theremin hybrid that brings down the Apocalypse in a tempest of swooping tones and howling white noise. A punishing set, but utterly thrilling and cleansing with it.

Stewart Smith

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