Being a partially true and ill-remembered reminiscence on the journeys and travails of Fawn Spots through the provinces of Zuid Holland, Brabant, Groningen and Noord Holland.
WORM Rotterdam 8/5/13 - Fawn Spots and Peter Burr
Maybe this is the week of mash ups. On Monday (6thMay YOOL/CE 2013) I saw an urban country band go head to head with a Greek post hardcore act in SUB071’s glorified bike shed. Tonight (10th) I’m off to the Sound of the Underground Festival where rock and glitchcore electronica will do battle in a variety of locations. You’ll be able to read about that below. On Thursday (as in at time of writing, last night) the Fawnies played the sleepy provincial town of Den Bosch for the outpost of the Subbacultcha! tribe with some of the loony punk fringe. I’m expecting a text any minute to flesh out this piece. And Wednesday saw one of the strangest of mixes of all, video / new media artist Peter Burr played the cinema of the Worm organisation’s impressive space and Fawn Spots blasted out their metallic racket in the small hall.
Maybe just saying “strange” sounds a bit perfunctory. Wednesday night was brain frying. A last minute gig set up by Peter Taylor - once of WORM, now going freelance - and David Fagan from Rats on Rafts, this was one of those evenings that really took some headspace to negotiate.
First we were ushered into the cinema space, where Peter Taylor promised us that we’d be getting “out there” pretty soon, deep into The Zone with SPECIAL EFFECT, a live film drawing on elements of Tarkovsky’s film, Stalker, and utilising music from Lucky Dragons and Seabat. And he wasn’t wrong. Burr, an unprepossessing chap, for the most part hidden behind a sort of lectern-come–control pad started, by use of laptoppery and other modern ju-ju to make what can only be described a brain-melting hour.
The screen was filled with glorious and often very intricate amalgams of computer generated imagery, film and cartoons (one being a ridiculous late seventies adventures in space Hannah Barbera knock off) and his own face. This was a multi-coloured trip, heavy on the senses, the colours overloaded, the accent on strong neon and synthetic hues, accentuating the atmosphere of a dreamscape. The links to Stalker were clear, but very, very well presented, this really could have been an anaemic mess if handled without due care. The sounds were a mix of glitchcore, electro, the usual washes of modulated synth and electric hum, brilliantly balanced throughout, it has to be said.
To add to the sense of bewilderment Burr regularly disappeared into a small tepee, usually whilst the adventures in space cartoon was on. This became mildly freaky after a while, as you got the feeling that a lot of what Burr did wasn’t played for laughs (many lesser lights would, without doubt have tried to do just that), rather he was trying to set up some kind of parallel ritual within the performance. That the ritual may have no cultural or emotional coin was neither here nor there. It was enough to notice it as a constant amongst all the other uncertainties. Fawn Spots sat in the front row, sleep deprived, wondering what the bloody hell they were doing here and just how they could rouse themselves out of this torpid, unsettling, claustrophobic trip.
Well, we were about to find out. Luckily Fawn Spots provided the antidote to all the disorientation. Their set was shockingly loud, gone were the poppy, chiming cuts and sharp crashing melodies; it seems the US gigs and split LP Wedding Dress with Cum Stain have precipitated the creation of a tougher, howling sound. Equal part Tudor lad (Roaring Boys indeed) equal part No Wave snarl, they battered the audience, which slowly and ever more noticeably started to take to the band, first via the odd bit of head nodding, then dancing then roaring acceptance. Fawn Spots’ current appeal is based squarely on the ever mounting adrenaline levels released by the merciless charge of this racket. In some ways it’s like being stuck in a hot train. It may come as a shock at first, but there’s little you can do about it, so it’s time to explore the parameters of your toleration levels, and see what you can gain from the experience. And once the appreciation that you can’t hang your hopes on those melodies anymore kicks in, you find you can slowly ingest this throbbing metallic racket. Rich mid tones coagulated round a full, deep drum sound: tracks like Watered Down and Tailor Made were hammered out, feedback snarled; guitars chugged and strained at the leash. It’s also very much a young man’s sound, which they play up to, like birds of paradise showing off their plumage they want to show you they can do a job, go harder, faster, higher than the rest and in that it’s pop music. Such is their confidence that they have ditched their best known song, Spanish Glass, though after a while that mattered not. An encore, (playing the only other song they could play) and that was that. WORM dug them.
After this it was off to de Voigt for a chat and a fag. Good times, great night.
Skate Park (hosted by Subbacultcha!) Den Bosch 9/5/13
I receive this text about the gig.
Looked after really well… Huge skate park, professionally run. Great promoter, it must be said. Gig was like playing to a youth club if I’m honest, they didn’t seem to know how to react to the music and we couldn’t find a way to feed off them. Oh well… The crowd seemed like they’d never been to a show before. We play a cover of Fear’s I Love Livin’ in the City and a punk there had a jacket with a Fear stencil on. He didn’t know the song and we had to explain it to him after. Apart from that it was really great.
Golly. Oh well they have to start somewhere…
SOTU, Amsterdam 10/5/13
The Amsterdam based Sounds of the Underground Festival is an extremely cool set up, I think in its second or third year, attracting real cognoscenti and not making many concessions to taste or popularity. That may sound snobbish but really, in a country like Holland where acceptance by your peers is the Holy Grail, this cussedness is refreshing, and in reality equates to people who have the same interests hanging out together and just getting on. Sadly we couldn’t catch any of the Narrominded gigs over at the Vondel bunker and the OCCII but are excited to what’s on at OT301 – a line up which includes Nouveau Vélo, Fawn Spots and the legendary deejay Marcelle.
We arrived in time to catch Nouveau Vélo who, in all honesty we were happy enough but not desperate to see, simply because we’ve watched them a lot this past 6 months or so. Still they are an act who keeps surprising: and it’s obvious they are paying a lot of attention to their sound for this was a tremendous gig, possibly the best I’ve seen of theirs, full of nuances and real power. The OT301’s high ceiling helped a lot in this respect, allowing the Vélo’s sound to be both immediate and also to slowly infiltrate the room. In this space it didn’t sound too weak, or too much an impenetrable wall of guitar. If I’ve had one criticism of the band since they became a three piece, it’s been that the set could become slightly two dimensional and their songs, however charming and accessible they may be, tend to be of a certain pattern and played in a certain key. Essentially you get two song sorts: mid paced, drawn out melodies ever reliant on Niek’s extraordinary guitar runs or softer quieter numbers nodding to Wilson but with a hint of raga about them. I’m not saying it’s bad, on the contrary, and it is their thing after all, but in terms of a live set it leaves little option but to follow set patterns, and that can be a slow kiss of death for a live act. However they seem to have realised this and on this night’s evidence, they have shifted up a gear or two, and could be on the point of real take off. and Rolf’s singing was far more evident, his engaging personality much more to the fore; Niek’s chiming and extraordinarily fluid guitar runs were the “ultimate come” on, forever changing in tone and pitch, always looking to surprise, not content with just running through a set of notes. And Bart’s bass has finally crept out of the shadows, adding a real presence and counterpoint to all these ringing harmonies.
Asleep was a brilliant here, pitched to the point where people were getting desperate for the tipping point, the release that the refrain brings. This was more like it, tension, passion, and appreciation that the audience needs a cliff edge to balance on sometimes. Kite rattled round the room, the Feelies style guitar run shredding all before it and for the first time having a sort of Neu! style edge to it: Rolf howling the lyrics and Bart setting up a strong buzzing bass line, balancing out Niek’s fretwork. Actually, talking of Dinger & Rother, if there’s one band who could, if they unlocked their third eye add something different to that Neu! sound template, it’s possibly this band. They’d do it without knowing it (as I’m pretty sure they’re not Neu! heads). Which, of course, is all the more special, and all the less yawningly Muso. And Aurora is so much better live the beautiful locked guitar melody really coming into its own, being stretched and knocked about, it’s something that should have been written for Pet Sounds, so bittersweet is that cascading melody. So good, occasionally brilliant stuff; and a real tonic.
This being Amsterdam, people were more laid back in their appreciation, sure, digging things but careful not to lose their cool. This town is all about swanning about, looking like you’re in control: and this was something that Fawn Spots undoubtedly felt as they cranked up their noise. Fawn Spots thrive on energy, looking to set up a hothouse atmosphere, their driving sound initially all about goading their crowd on to embark on a set of daft head rushes – of course there’s more to it than that, a lot more, but the environment needed to make this sort of music thrive is one where we all lose it a little bit. This gig initially felt like work, people came in and out of the room: for sure people dug it but no one really went ape as they did in Rotterdam. Still the sound was great and the temperature started to rise as tracks like Watered Down and Recorder clattered around the place. They have a great rhythm to them; steady and pulsating but also hinting that the whole thing can fall apart. That you know that aspect is just a trick, that things won’t come unstuck, makes it all the more thrilling somehow. We got Livin’ In The City, which a few older sages DID get this time, the band will be thankful to note. And we got one of their strongest new tracks, National Anthem, which, with its abrupt switch from bittersweet melancholy to noise assault is one of the highlights of their set. Tonight it worked a treat, the moment when the audience defrosted and accepted this slightly goofy bunch.
Then it was time for a much heralded act The KVB. The place filled up, the room full of babbling types. And I’m sorry, it’s not because I’m looking to pour cold water on people’s expectations, or on the band, but I really don’t get KVB on this performance. I like that Suicidey hiss as much as the next groover that’s for sure. It sounds fine, there are some very pretty melodies and hooks, and it’s all well done, but it’s two people doing their own thing, the girl playing keys, the lad playing guitar*. Fine on record, and enjoyable enough live but something I can’t actually watch for that long.
Predictably this was packed, having ticked all the right boxes for this sort of crowd, you know the drill: existential poses and deliberately ill-defined statements are where it's "at". All about a vague sense of disquiet and mild intemperance with the world at large. I think… That they are extremely photogenic also adds, this is what Amsterdam likes, things with no blemishes, all surface with no need to scratch. I’m just wondering what to get hold of, or what new perspective it brings. Or what they’ll do in two years’ time. Blame it on middle age. I’m sure if you’re 25 or so it sounds like another rehash of The Future.
*When oh when will that change?
Then we decided to get on down with deejay Marcelle, whose sets are really something else. I decided to stand by the deejay and watch the master at work, but besides registering that there were three turntables busily spinning and plenty of dials and nobs being twiddled and adjusted, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. For the life of me, it looked effortless, as for the music it was the usual heady jumble of sound effects and demonstration records - weird marginalia and paraphernalia set over an absolutely steaming beat: quite like one of those Thai soups where there is seemingly no method in the creation but happen to work just fine because there is a deeper understanding at play. The atmosphere was thick, pulsating and redolent of all manner of naughty things – people relaxed and got on a roll, people danced to whatever was thrown at them, people chatted in the bar, tapping along to this surreal backdrop. Finally we dragged ourselves home, stumbling through the streets of Amsterdam, wondering why some of the best things happen so late at night.
“Lepel loves Vera”, Club Vera, Groningen 11/5/13
There are times when I really wish I owned a private jet where I could be taken to Club Vera and then flown home, my needs being administered to on the voyages by sylph-like sylvan creatures that would massage the toxins from me and later bring me sweet wine, peeled grapes and a steak & kidney pie with gravy. I’d then avoid the utter trauma of the 06:46 train journey from Groningen to Leiden, which, in common parlance (that used by manual labourers, mariners and the like), can be a “fucking bitch”.
But enough moaning. Incendiary were there to deejay along with our pals at Subroutine, and also take on Fawn Spots’ last gig – in what really should be their spiritual home, Club Vera. Bastion of independent and right minded people who love music because it’s good and interesting, who realise that new music is there to help broaden minds, not just because it’s trendy. The night was an eclectic mix; Naïve Set and Incendiary darlings Spilt Milk played the cellar bar whilst the Fawnies and Italian noise trio Fuzz Orchestra hit the mainstage.
First some records were played including (to an audience of the bar staff) most of Viv Stanshall’s Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. I won’t bang on about my own deejaying as that’s ridiculous thing to do; but I have to say playing Sir Henry Rawlinson in an empty club at full speaker volume has to be one of the more remarkable moments in my time on Incendiary magazine. Just for the incongruity of Viv Stanshall’s daft monologues being blasted round the hall. And even though no one heard it. Enough, vanity get behind me. The mainstage was ready to rock and Italy’s Fuzz Orchestra took the stage to a sparse crowd.
Sometimes I buy records for the sake of it, sometimes I buy records knowing I need what the band has, given the strength of what I’ve seen. Man I was desperate for that Fuzz Orchestra vinyl. For this gig was an absolute revelation. Three chaps, all hirsute Bohemian types – looking like a rock band made up of senior lecturers – settled down to smashing Vera open. They specialise – nay revel in making heavy soundscapes utilising records, samples, keys, and a thumping metal sensibility. The portentous noise howled through Vera, hammering on the walls, loud but bracingly loud with real delicacy in the upper register (it’s great when you can take on board the subtleties of the samples or keys with music like this; otherwise it just fries your head after a while). There was a distinct link to the soundscapes Young Gods would bludgeon out all those years ago, but with the Fuzz Orchestra, the music had much more of an urban sensibility; it almost dripped of plots in courtyards, of whispers, of suggestions of bloodletting… That Italian Gothic sensibility, Piranesi’s prisons, that New Futurist love of the urbane. It was intense and sometimes macabre but playfully, intellectually so.
Time for Fawn Spots to conclude their NL tour. The crowd had grown by now to a fair size (shit weather didn’t help a turn out) and Fawn Spots, taking advantage of the legendary sound in Club Vera proceeded to batter out a highly charged set. You got the feeling they felt comfortable playing the place, and they fitted in, their roughhewn hooks and buzzing counter points crashing round the place like some daft Bloodhound puppy let out to gamble in the spring sunshine. They’ve developed so much as a band since they played Tilburg last year, not as gawky and less brittle, a tougher band, but still full of that shy charm that initially caught us. They don’t snarl or affect poses either, they mean what they play which – given the fact that they are in a genre that thousands have tried before – means a lot. In fact they are almost the antithesis of the well drilled British band: almost Dutch in their manner of pausing between songs to sort something out. No show time stuff and a Blag Flag sensibility well to the fore. Again, National Anthem was boss, and possibly the highlight: no encores again but short sharp and sweet and all the better for it. They need to start touring here a bit more often, and very soon.
After that it was a dance and a drink and an attempt to catch Spilt Milk downstage: the place was packed and although I was really looking forward to catching some of their new material live I ended up seeing them do a lot of older numbers, bad timing on my part I’m sure. And it was just too packed to hang around for long. Still it’s the perfect setting for them, this intimate subterranean space, and they sounded in great form, with their troubadour vibe being given a rockier bent? Marc was playing a sub acoustic in any case.
Another dance and a drink and inevitably the interminable wait for that damned early train, initially alleviated, (but in the long run a manoeuvre of extreme corporeal detriment, let me tell you), by grabbing a kebab in one of the town’s still thriving fast food outlets. Why is Groningen so fucking far away?