HELLVETE / U.S. GIRLS / SYLVESTER ANFANG II SPLIT REVIEW
Preluude: Tom Bugs walks past and I flag him down.
"Who's playing? Oh, the Kraak Records boys..."
"You going later?" I ask.
"Nah, I'm rehersing." He shrugs and laughs. "Always rehersin'..."
He walks off dn Stokes Croft, half-muttering to himself: "Always rehersin' for something..."
Part One: Thee Sicke Minstrel's Tale.
Despite battling a nasty bout of flu, Helvete kicked off the proceedings with a solo live-extrapolation of the psych.medievalism he explored on his excellent "De Gek" LP (which I've been meaning to write about for nearly a year, dammit!! But I'll def. be pickin' over it soon in a one-off special 'Vinyl Picks' wordcast): building up a constantly-shifting spectral structure constructed from layered keyboard drones - a soft mirage of a building glimpsed from different angles, different points in time, a composite memory / Venn audio-overlap of...tones from the intro of some Germanic ballad from 1464 blending in with a sour-sounding 1966 Cale viola-drone, Warhol's Factory remade as some sort of broken Grail Myth sound-poem. Or that's how it seemed; ghostly and indistinct, solemn yet tender, each layer decaying and falling away from under three or four others.
Behind him, footage of a vintage Dream-Machine endlessly rotating on-and-on; a MemoryDredger tm, the OST to Reptile Brain Invocation #3 ("We filmed it for an hour," said Glen, laughing. Or maybe it was Ernesto.); a few weeks ago I tried one of those internet d-machine simulators wh/ gave me a bad headache within two minutes and eventually induced a bowel-movement rather than some Eternal Archetype; this time I saw imaginary typographies - pseudo-Cyrillic glyphs, woodcuttings of Rammellzee-like word-forms, snippets of some made-up left-brain language; Gothic-looking ghost-characters and alien fonts that seemed to be a lyric-sheet, a libretto designed to accompany Helvete's musical descent into something that sounded foreboding, yet stately and beautiful. ("Hahaha. Well, you are wired differently, dude," said Ernesto, laughing - yeah, it was definitely Ernesto who said that, when I told him I'd seen words, not animals or nebishes or whathaveyou. Ernesto's done this...this re-imagining thing where he's made his own version of a Konono No. 1 track - not a remix - on the forthcoming "Tradi-Mods Vs Rockers" LP and I can't wait to hear that!)
By this point, Hellvete had added a bowed banjo to his arsenal of Burgundian-flavour'd drones, soursweet sombre overtones that sounded like some ergot-smeared fugue - the smell of woodsmoke was drifting thru the venue now, rotting pendants blowing in a bitter wind; women wept, clutching at their rags for warmth while The Velvet Underground played at the funeral of Duke Louis de Mâle.
Banjo-as-timemachine: it's 1730 now, or maybe it's 1927 and Hellvete's plucking at his strings, playing the years - the decades - blurring time and space as he transmutes the music into a sad Appalacian ballad cum dirgesong that summons up the dreams of lonely French migrant workers, the broken mountains and ridges of a pre-coaltrawled Virginia - timeless and untainted by everything except regret.
Interluude one: Bart Sloow, he s'funny; he makes me laugh - a lot. His beard is back, but not as bushy as before - he had a full-on Flying Dutchman at one point; a ghost clipper-skipper's sproutage that made him look as if he'd just stepped out of an old painting (you almost expect him to have flaking oil-paint pigments instead of skin)- he mades my face feel nude, makes me wanna grow a stop-film animation beard, like now. Sloow's putting together another fest. - by accident this time - when he gets back from tour I'll mail him and post some details about who he's got playing; it sounded pretty cool. He has some new tapes out and kindly gave me a copy of the new Majutsu no Niwa one - "Ecstatic Crystallization" - I'm gonna give that a biig blast tomorrow. I'll let ya know how I get on.
Part Two: "Just Flew in From Philly".
Megan Remy catches me sneakily checking out her pedal-array. Embarrassed at being busted, I sorta semi-apologise: "Sorry, I'm, uh..a gear-nerd. I'm curious about other people's set-ups. What pedals they use. I can't help myself." She's jet-lagged; but graceful. I make a vague wasn't-touching-anything, honest type gesture. She laughs and says it's okay. Sad Boss delay-pedal anorak does gurning face and the bullhailer in his head scrzzzes "Hands in the air and step away slowly from the artiste's equipment!" Busted, but extremely pleased to see she uses cassette-tapes as part of her live set-up. Cassette tapes are good; I use vintage Walkman players and 25-year old tapes myself, but nowhere near as well as she does.
Live, U.S. Girls sound like a somnambulant radio-show, all ether-hiss and station-drift, Megan singing thru a gauzy veil of pedal-treatments over (randomly-selected?) tapes from her css-stash. It's like she's her own DJ, picking out song fragments from a broken jukebox in her head and then broadcasting them via a phantom transmitter - herself - selecting sounds that hang in the air, invisible - inaudible - to all but a few. A Radio-Medium who channels ghostly whitegospel and Spector girl-group tropes - the micro-mixer and pedal-maze acting as an electrical ouija-board.
Intermittently, Megan switches cassettes while her pedals pump out wispy swathes of hisssss or fuzzed-out signalmulch; she pitchshifts tumbling squalls of feedback, softening them, taming them; and each tapechange sounds like an invisible hand moving the dial on some vast imaginary wireless-set...re-tuning itself, sifting down thru the spectral output of distant Radio-Stars; collapsing nebulae that use hydrogen clouds as their call-sign. “This is Radio Free U.S. Girls broadcastin’ on 6562.8 Å...”
She plays the mixing-desk like a piano, rapid flurries of hand-movements, tweaking FX-levels, EQs...flattening, fattening, expanding, dragging-out sounds, changing their shapes, pulling them apart...attenuating, diminishing...it is like a radio-show...ghostly, flimsy, tenuous, fleeting, ever-shifting; only allowed to exist by the sheer grace of Megan’s will...sounds woven in and out of each other like strands of phantom silk. “Beauty is tenuous,” her music seems to say, “grab each tender moment while you can, spin it out, transform it into something else...listen ...remember...”
Electronic beats arrive, sounding like Some Other 1982 – Soft Cell haunting the airwaves of Radio Afterlife...some brave souls start to Almost Dance – me included...the past is forgiven, reaffirmed, celebrated, transmuted into The Present somehow. All at once, but in a small, almost silent way.
Sometimes, music just begs to become something else.
Interluude two: Bram chuckles a lot and smiles. He reminds me of Chris Giles, that soft, inwardly-embedded geniality. "They've spelled our name wrong on the poster," he says, or maybe it was Tommy. No it was definitely Bram. "Silvezschter[unintelligible] Anganganganfang-an-an-angfan-agang. Huh?" He shrugs, like, whatchagonnado? Smiles and draws on his cigarette. Like: Life's too short.
"They called me Hell Vet-t-t-t-T," says Glen. He pulls a face and looks vaguely unimpressed. "Gah."
Life's too short.
Part Three: Cassetten Commune Comrades.
Sylvester Anfang crawl out from the spaces between the frames of their own back-projection; they assemble in the shadows; Children of Fenris in rollerneck sweaters. This is the Full Monty, the fourteen-horned Goat of Brabant, cloven hooves and sharpened guitar-picks at the ready. It starts with something that’s a distant-cousin to Hawkwind or Neu, a home-brewed Motorik soup that eschews the incisiveness of Rother or Circle and replaces it with something looser – a baggy suit of clothes that runs down the road, floppy arms a-flailing, empty of any human occupant: Lo – and Behold! – there is no one inside, but see how it runs! - its armless sleeves pumping at the air, footless trouser-cuffs ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-running in time to the drums. If Motorik was all about The Drive - the pulse of engine and heartbeat of driver syncing with landmarks as they flash past outside - then this is the sound of the driver removed from his car, his body dissipated – evaporated – from inside his Byrne-sized suit - running on ahead of himself; all corporeality abandoned – the trouser-legs a physical afterecho of the post-physical 'him'...they’re trying to catch up, his legs and arms, jogging in time to a headless-chicken rhythm that only he can hear in his non-existent head. It’s the pulse of Life that animates his bodiless clothes, his invisible heart beating inside his head.
Behind them, on the screen: kaleidoscopes and prisms, cascading lights, galaxies exploding in slow motion. The music’s a clattering pulse, a gaseous swirl of synths, a bruised fog scythed open by Sterling Morrison guitar rattle. We clap and woot.
(Instant DistortoMix courtesy of cheapjack mic on £30 pay-as-yer-go-fone)
Instruments are swapped, band-members repositioned. They play something from the Fifth Side of "Yeti", a jam positioned at right-angles to the tuff pre-Prog riffage of seites 1&2 and the Sandoz klaaangstruft of 3&4; at points, the interlaced guitars carrying an almost.echo of the less shrill / hectic moments of "Phallus Dei", and also that sonorous not-quite-raga chime of late 60's psych; there's a bit of the VU about the guitar-lines too, the accidental dissonance that comes from the interplay of different gauge strings, different playing styles, micro-tunings; Bram's firing off delicate little Blues-flava'd volleys underneath it all, while footage of naked witches frolick behind them and anarchocommune members play the bongos in their birthday suits.
Glen straps on a bass and takes point, shaking off his cold, tapping his foot and willing the band to get Into The Zone behind him as he stomps out a fuzzed-up Garage Rock nugget. And in come the chiming guitars, the droning guitars and the drums and they're off again, but this time its some smoky, dimly-lit basement in '66, a homemade light-show shining on the wall, stoned teenagers misquoting some English Beat Band, playing their guitars too loud, shaking their puddin'-bowled heads and shining for one brief glorious moment.
Anfang play psych.music as it was meant to be heard and seen, in a small intimate room w/ friends and like-minded souls: raw, messy, jammed-out n in-the-moment. Fuck The Big Score.
They stop for the 11pm kerfew but "the crowd call out for mooo-ooo-oore..."
"Just one more! Just another Five minutes!" someone yells. "We love you!"
"Ha! Five minutes'll turn into fifteen!" laughs Tommy (I think). By this point they'd all turned into one another.
"It doesn't matter - Time doesn't exist! It's all imaginary!" shouts another punter, everyone laughs and the band play a crunching, k'zoned-out Boogie jam and everyone lived happily ever after.
Epiluude: In the Qu-Junktions Office we talk about the Pros n Cons of Dubbed Wrestling Matches Vs Wrestling Matches in their native languages; "the wankiness that is Oasis"; the fact that Bram once had to sit thru a four-and-a-half hour soundcheck (!!!) by a Danish band, knowing that he would set-up his stuff and check in under 10 minutes. He's very patient, is Bram. And Ernesto has a very wise head on his shoulders - he made me think about a whole bunch of stuff - and Sloow is Sloow. They're lovely fellas, alla them, and i worried that I kept them up too late...
"We're not girrrrrrls," says Ernesto.
"I'll remind you of this at 9am tomorrow," says Tommy.
We record a jingle for Tommy's Dub-Lab podcast, Ernesto beatboxing into my phone and going "Tommy...Tommy..." in a squealy teenagegirl voice thru a pretend echobox. I will mix this down at some point and send it to them.
A final cigarette with Bram.
Bedankt voor het spelen, fellas.