Le Guess Who? Festival - Sunday 27/11/11 Utrecht

Iceage are a machine and a relentless one at that. There’s something very, very exciting and invigorating about them, listening to their metallic, flinty, fiery sound stimulates a feeling of being washed clean in the noise: it’s the only way I can put it.

 

 

We just couldn’t face Saturday; despite the charms of the free festival “Le Mini Who” (played out by the Nymphs and Dryads of the Utrecht scene on the Voorstraat) and the attractions of the magnificent Winged Victory for the Sullen… we were in bits it has to be said. Apologies all round (they were offered to Spilt Milk’s Brenda after everything had finished on Sunday, upstairs in the Ekko’s dingy smoking room but hey repetition sometimes pays off). Sorry kids.

Anyway… Sunday saw us refreshed by an early night heading into dB’s to take in a marvellously loud programme starting with Part Chimp. Now I have never ever before walked into a venue to see a venue shaking: dB’s doors behind the stage (where the bands wheel in their gear) were literally blown open by noise, but life should be full of “firsts” don’t you think?  Going into the Zaal was akin to being hit by the power of the elements: like walking into the sonic equivalent of a blast furnace, the listener had to brave it, be stoic, adapt or get out. The gonzo shtick that the band cultivates is righteously topped off by their deafening wall of sound which somehow just enhances their adolescent appeal. And in promoting this, they were relentless; their undulating, lowing wall of noise just kept crashing over the audience. People went in and out of the hall in relays, gasping for air and sanity. And how the bloody heck Part Chimp kept going after their allotted time was up is beyond me. Exhausting.

Despite feeling a bit shaken we realised duty still called. It’s not often you feel compelled to sit in the fuggy smoking room in order to see two middle aged Italians play blues whilst wearing welding masks as light relief, but that’s how it felt after Part Chimp.  Blues balm aside, we also demanded the spare chair from hot Danish band Iceage’s table without once going into a tizzy. See how well Incendiary rubs shoulders with fame? Back to the Italians… known as Cyborgs and apparently coming from another planet their mission is to release blues from its dusty reputation. Now this is a brilliant conceit. Masks off, I doubt whether anyone, let alone anyone in this hip and well-presented audience would bother watching a blues band. In Holland you can walk into many a bar and see an extremely proficient and pretty much ignored blues act knocking out standards by the penny dozen. Here, with Hip Holland backing them, and resplendent in their masks, the duo assumed an air of leaders of an attractive cult. And there's one thing about the blues which helps any band, it’s extremely easy to tap along to: and the audience did that, nodding along to the well-worn (and extremely well played) grooves and attitudes.  The gig slowly built up, coming to a crescendo when various audience members were invited to tap the mask of the now prostrate guitarist. This simple interaction had the smoking room going nuts with excitement.  It’s incredible how a new perspective changes things, don’t you think?

After a short while it was back to the Zaal to see Eagulls, who are from Leeds.  A five piece they make a noise not dissimilar to a punk Teenage Fanclub, certainly a TFC around the time of their first LP. Replace the Fannies’ slackerisms with a spiky, interrogative vibe (driven mainly by the singer) and some highly charged punk/garage spirit and you’re not far off. There were elements of Guided by Voices too, and Swell Maps. The singer replete in button down shirt jumper and Donkey jacket looked like he’d just come off shift from the bins. Or maybe he’d just traipsed out of some Beatnik coffee bar. Whatever, he was a right scally with his head waggling and lumpish walks around the stage (they are a very mobile bunch, walking around in circles almost constantly). But ignore my superciliousness for a minute; this lot are a good band and going somewhere, their supercharged anthems possessing a few cracking hooks and surges in tempo and attitude.  We bought the single, and we suggest you check them out. Then the moment most of the assembled were waiting for, the much trumpeted Iceage. We were excited it’s true as New Brigade is a magnificent record but for now we were content to sit back (or in this case the side of the stage) and let the whole thing wash over us.

Well… If ever we’ve been subject to an aural assault this was it. This wasn’t like drowning in the sea of Part Chimp’s noise; no… watching Iceage was more akin to being run over by a tank. All metal screeches and clanks and groans, Iceage are a machine and a relentless one at that. There’s something very, very exciting and invigorating about them, listening to their metallic, flinty, fiery sound stimulates a feeling of being washed clean in the noise: it’s the only way I can put it. There’s something sulphurous and timeless in their music. And you can’t discount the enormous animal magnetism of the singer who alternates between looking like a choirboy and some vicious and untrustworthy feral beast. Very much like Gabriel Ernest in Saki’s story, or Scorp Murtlock in Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time novels, you feel you can’t quite trust the lad. But it’s hard to take your eyes of his antics; one of which was to imperiously kick over the monitors and assault the small mosh pit (ok by anyone else’s standards it was sedate stuff, but for a provincial Dutch club full of music “aficionados” it was a riot). By this point we were sat on the edge of the stage laughing along with and admiring the antics, it was as if someone had sent an electric charge through the room. What a gig.

After this it was time to hoik ourselves over to Ekko (meaning a walk through some of Utrecht’s barren suburbs) to catch two American eccentric visionaries in the shape of Gary War and John Maus. Gary War was on first: his long hair hiding his face and stooped over his Rickenbacker, he howled out his long psyched-out mantras. War’s forte is the way he extends his trippy vibe over a variety of settings; essentially it’s loner music, dolorous in parts and aggressive in others, but always introverted - a bit like The Cure’s 17 Seconds in that respect.  But it was an enjoyable gig. He’s worth checking out if you haven’t already. A break ensued, allowing one and all to gird themselves for a true spectacle in the form of John Maus. Let’s begin this review at the end. Afterwards, whilst relieving the old chap in the pissers, a gent standing in the cubicle next to me remarked, “well that was all a bit ridiculous wasn’t it?” I wish I’d have told him to be less Judge-Mental, (a common trait amongst hip gig goers here) and just allow Maus’s excitable madness to take hold. But in a way, yes, it was ridiculous. Seeing a grown man scream and shout over what, in effect, is a glorified karaoke show is fantastically ridiculous - however good tracks like Believer and Hey Moon are. Nevertheless, in the setting of the Ekko on that night it was a shared feeling of the daftness of it all that allowed the audience to escape the confines of “normal” gig going, and just enjoy the music, or the moment for whatever it was worth. It was like an old style rave from back in 87-88 when no one really knew how to behave outside of smiling and laughing and enough people began to jig about and have a good time. It must be said that Maus sets great store by screaming and fist pumping and throwing water over himself by the end he resembled a demented man who’d had a shower in his clothes… but fair enough. Now and again Incendiary even did a bit of fist pumping, especially when Rights for Gays was started up. Marvellous, and, yes, “ridiculous”.