Pip wearing different hats to portray different characters in one song, Dan holding up props in another. The music does get away from the gameboy sounds, thankfully, as it quickly becomes clear to me that although Thou Shalt Always Kill is the attention grabber it's not their best track by a long way.
Letter from London, April 2007
I start the month with a weekend visit to the North East of England, where there's not a lot of music to catch my eye (or should that be ear?) during my visit. So, in an effort to keep my cultural batteries topped up, I pop along to the Baltic Gallery where you can still see an excellent exhibition on shiny tiffin boxes moving around on a sushi conveyor belt thing by Subodh Gupta (the picture doesn't go it justice)
There's also a full floor dedicated to large prints from Vik Muniz, who creates collages of toys or twigs and leaves or, more usually, some sort of unpleasant fluid (peanut butter, chocolate sauce, glue) to make Warhol-esc images of celebrities. The inner pedant in me is awoken when I see that there's a print of the character Johnny Strabler from the The Wild One that's called Marlon Brando, you know the image: black leather jacket, peaked cap set at a jaunty angle. An equally iconic image of Christopher Lee is called Dracula - doesn't this actor rise above one character? Obviously not for Vik. Then again, I have no idea who played The Creature from the Black Lagoon (rendered in caviar), and I'm perfectly happy with that prints title. Hypocrisy is a great comfort to me sometimes.
The main reason I'm here is for the Brian Eno installation. This is on the top floor of the gallery, and it completely occupies one wall. The whole floor is bathed in a kind of twilight and the only illumination comes from the art itself. It's a wall of brightly shining images that slowly move and mutate into another image, like being trapped inside a giant kaleidoscope. Amazing. There's an ambient Eno soundtrack going on too. I simply stand and take it all in for twenty minutes. If I'd been there alone I could have happily stared into it day. According to the guide the images are all randomly generated from a stock of 1000s, as are the sounds, so you could sit here for a week and not see or hear exactly the same thing. I find it totally relaxing and feel like I could live in a Brian Eno kaleidoscope world for
at least a week.
Back in London, and I'm taken to another Gallery, perhaps the most famous gallery in London? Tate Modern. Actually, the similarities for the Baltic are numerous: south bank of the river, former industrial building converted to art gallery, shows modern art. But while the Baltic can conjour up prints of caviar smears that look like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Tate Modern can assemble a huge collection of Gilbert and George work. Do you know about Gilbert and George? For my tuppence worth, the idea of them is a lot better than their work... but of course the idea of them is their greatest work, as they are keen to be seen as living sculptures. Gilbert and George are two – now elderly - men that have lived in the same house off fashionable Brick Lane since the 1960s. They always dress the same (in suits), walk together to eat breakfast in the same greasy spoon cafe, dinner in the same Turkish restaurant in Hackney, that sort of thing.
This exhibition is fascinating. It starts with their earliest work, there are some drawings but from almost the word go there's work made up of combining smaller photos. These early, black and white examples that show nights in the local boozer I find charming. The photos are just the regular size that you would have got from taken the film to get developed at the local chemist , which you can imagine the young G&G going into clutching a couple of rolls of film. The photos aren't in the rigid grid that characterizes the later work. This grid quickly imposes itself on the pieces though (I suppose that it's hard not to when you're making large, rectangular images from smaller rectangular ones.) The colour starts to creep in too, I'm no photographer but I guess the earliest colour is made by producing 'black and red' or 'black and yellow' prints, rather than 'black and white'. As the technology gets better, the colours become more garish and more frequent and the work gets bigger and bigger. I think I can tell where the computers come in, but I'm probably wrong. The modern work is massive, but oddly it starts to remind me of fliers for techno clubs. I'm not sure if that shows Gilbert and George have their finger on the pulse or that their ideas have seeped into clubbers consciousness.
Enough art wank.
There was a get-together for a few Incendiary contributors in London a few weeks ago. We descended en-masse to a night called Headphones Off, at a venue in Hoxton called Catch. Richard Foster (your editor) took over the DJ duties, playing a crowd pleasing set of found sounds and Krautrock, while Chris Dawson networked with the London crowd like a professional. I skulked in a dark corner at the back, taking it all in. And what a great view. We had an amazing set from Appie Kim, direct from the Netherlands for tonight only. That girl is going to go far (and before you start get off my back, they call themselves 'a girl and two boys' on their myspace page): great guitar work, good songs, an amazing attitude and a great look. Sure, they need a bit more practice. The fact that one of the lads has to jump between instruments mid song does disrupt the flow a bit, but it shows that they've got big ideas I reckon. Then we're treated to a crowd pleasing set from Morton Valence. They make the effort too, dressing the stage before they take to it. The first thing I notice is that there are loads of them. The next is thing is that the crowd love them. Their blend of poppy electro goes down a storm. Everyone leaves with a smile on their face.
So, we all agreed that last month my miserable effort to see Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip wasn't good enough? So this month I kicked myself up the arse and tried again. Fortunately, they were playing a bigger venue, the Spitz, not some room above a pub, and I was able to buy a ticket in advance. The night is called Penned in the Margins. Scroobius Pip is a poet, and this is a poetry night that they were booked for before they got attention. There's a couple of dozen candle lit tables where I'm used to seeing a throbbing crowd enjoying a show at the Spitz. Sitting at these tables are young, chin stroking types. They chuckle at the awful poems of the support act, poems so dull that they don't even register with me at all. How come I end up at nights like this? Fortunately my knowledge of the venue allows me to find a cool, quiet corner with a perfect view of the stage for the main event. Scroobius Pip takes the stage dressed in a suit, trainers and baseball cap. He also has an amazing beard. He takes a seat and crosses his legs while Dan (T-shirt, jeans) sets up his lap top and box of tricks.
Dan and Pip have obviously been rehearsing: there's plenty of between song banter and some stage craft: Pip wearing different hats to portray different characters in one song, Dan holding up props in another. The music does get away from the gameboy sounds, thankfully, as it quickly becomes clear to me that although Thou Shalt Always Kill is the attention grabber it's not their best track by a long way. As well as other tracks with better music, there are also plenty of others with amazing rhymes. Pip's veteran status on the live poetry scene is obvious, as is his love of good hip-hop. He delivers his words flawlessly, and there's a message to a lot of it (sometimes a little too blunt for my tastes, but what the heck). Signed to Lex records now, you'll hopefully hear a lot more of them soon.
A week or so later I'm back in the Spitalfields area, but this time it's the Vibe Bar on 'trendy Brick Lane'. As a music venue, the Vibe Bar leaves a lot to be desired, the stage is just a slightly raised area along the side of the room, with invisible side boundaries drawn back from the PA speakers. The after work drinks crowd is impressive for a Monday, but they're here to gossip, not to see Babar Luck, who is prowling around the venue, staring out from under his woolly hat. As he passes I ask him what time he's on: "9:30, for 90 minutes. I'm doing an hour and a half set, the first twenty minutes are going to be 'arrg' to alienate people and then I'll reel them back in." We chat for a bit and he tells me that as he's getting older, he's getting more romantic... and more angry. Babar takes the stage with his acoustic guitar. He's a sight to be seen as he plays. Clearly at ease performing he rolls his eyes, and paces around. Babar's fingers seem to tickle the fret board most of the time, rather than sticking to regular chords. It works well though, his songs are great: tales of urban life and love, frustration and joy. He introduces his songs: ' this one's a reggae song, this ones a punk song', but to tell you the truth they all begin to sound the same. No... .that's not fair. You can tell it's a punk song as Babar shouts a bit, and you can tell it's a reggae track as his accent becomes a bit more West Indian, a bit less West Ham. Still, as long as there a particular type of song in Babar's head, that'll do for me. An hour and a half was a little bit long I think, even with Babar's great between song stories. I buy a CD from him at the end, which I'll review for this fine mag if I pull my finger out.
Just the other night I popped along to Artrocker. There was a buzz about one of the bands on here tonight, The Tiny Masters of Today. It must be said that it's a buzz created mainly by Artrocker themselves (as far as I can tell) but if that works who I am I to point the finger? And it does work, this is a busier Artrocker than normal... in fact the only time I remember it being fuller was when I saw the Fiery Furnaces here a few years back. I know nothing about the first two bands on the bill: MIT and Tigerforce. MIT are a real revelation. Perfect bleepy pop that's 'oh so fashionable' at the minute. Think CSS, LCD sound system, even the Gossip. If your friends like those bands, drop MIT into the conversation and watch your credibility points soar to new heights. Something about the bare drum sounds and the dirty keyboard bass lines really works for me tonight. Tigerforce are boy / girl pairing that make shouty, fuzzed up guitar and drum machine songs. I like them: sometimes they remind me of the bubblegum pop of Das Wanderlust, sometimes the relentless drums are pure Big Black and, less happily, occasionally I think I hear a bit of Carter USM in there. The last two songs last an age... so long in fact that I have to leave before the main event takes the stage. I had been hoping to see Russel Simins (Blues Explosion) play drums for a brother and sister duo whose average age is 12. The Tiny Master of Today will have to wait until tomorrow.
Words: Chris Gibson.