Grauzone 2014

For sure there is always an element of looking back to “better times”, and there were moments during the night where I thought I was watching some part of my memory served up as a hologram.

 

Remake / Remodel.  Or, “A gentleman’s preemptive waffle upon encountering olde soundes.”

Remake / Remodel. This title was floating round my head as I left the Melkweg after a fun packed evening at Grauzone.

Remake / Remodel... 

It’s funny how some phrases or gestures bubble up to the surface every now and then to hit you with their meanings, justified in a new setting. I’m sure Roxy had something else in mind back in 1972. But, given the current trend for rearticulating our recent cultural pasts for new audiences and imbuing them with new meanings, or (re)entrenching old assumptions, it’s an appropriate way to kick start this review of a night full of old heroes; from Jah Wobble to Peter Hook, via Lydia Lunch and Chris and Cosey and – most felicitously - two great old Dutch bands who surely deserve more attention; Eton Crop and Mecano. And you know what, certainly on the experience of Grauzone 2014, this so called “nostalgia” trend is not as ruinous or as two-dimensional as people make out. For sure there is always an element of looking back to “better times”, and there were moments during the night where I thought I was watching some part of my memory served up as a hologram. But seeing old acts in a new setting, or reified and repackaged to deal with “the needs of the now” also allows old assumptions to be recalibrated in new settings, allowing a new appraisal in a dynamic state, if you will. Most importantly, the relationship between audience and artists is much more nuanced and complicated than you would initially expect; there has to be a suspension of disbelief but at the same time the qualitative bar is sometimes raised higher. Can this old music capture new feelings? And does music somehow have its own timeline that reveals itself and thrusts previously unbearable sounds into a new phase of acceptance? Trust me, 20 years ago, no one, outside of grimy, encrusted, neglected and often provincial outposts of Heads listened to Chris and Cosey. Does this sudden wave of approbation from media people who would never have heard of them, let alone liked them 5 years ago show that we’ve all caught up with those “old” sounds in Chris and Cosey’s brains? Maybe.  It’s all difficult to suss, but at the same time it’s pretty stimulating to think about.  Check out Andy Bennett’s essay, Popular Music, Cultural Memory and Everyday Aesthetics if you get time. He puts it far better than me, that’s for sure.  

Into the Wormhole with Mecano and Jah Wobble.

Remake / Remodel. The Melkweg has been remade and remodeled recently; the backstage area is even more labyrinthine than it was 15-20 years ago. And trying to negotiate where the fuck you were after a few scoops wasn’t easy. Somehow this confusion and loss of bearings mutated into some transporting agent, preparing your reviewer for the opening act at the ungodly hour of 7pm. Because I really wasn’t prepared to see Mecano. I’d seen Dirk Polak and Mark Ritsema do the odd Mecano number in their Polar Twins gigs, and of course I’d played the Mecano LPs to bits over the last few years.

Still, opening up is never easy at a festival. And it must have been a ball ache to believe you would start an evening (after waiting 30 odd years to play) to a smallish audience and then see half of the audience bugger off to the first main attraction. You know the drill, watch a band for 15 minutes, think “yeah that’s them ticked off” and shoot off to see something else. That’s the theory anyway. In practice a decent sized crowd of old gits and the odd young trendy (looking for all the world as if they were at their first day at school) milled about expectantly to take in Mecano’s first gig for bloody years. Trooping on, the band quietly and methodically started bashing out their broody strange music, sound tracking Dirk Polak’s widescreen, dystopian worldview. Within seconds of this gig starting it was plain that they are a strange band still; poppy and menacing, entrancing but that little bit off kilter.... a band you want to love but, given their music (full of declamations and soliloquies) a band that doesn’t really give you a helping hand up. But regardless of any stand offs, tonight they were absolutely magnificent; Polak’s incredible stage presence lighting up the evening and charging an appreciative audience into getting on down with some abandon. Somehow the set was paced at a level that only ramped up the expectation; a superbly confident showing, with  Ritsema’s guitar lines constantly questioning and challenging, looking to deconstruct as well as lay down a groove.

As to the songs... I do remember a rush of stuff off Entitled; (at least my emotional memory is telling me that I should think that*) stuff like Permanent Revolt, Dissident Lament and a tough, uncompromising take on Meccano, plus a brilliant version of Untitled; where Polak, full of some crazy, gonzo theatricality, had the audience literally eating out of his hand.  But outside of that I can’t remember what was played, as the gig was that good that I wasn’t really paying attention; rather, soaking up the shock of hearing these songs for the first time, moreover, songs being played with such force, sharpness and menace.  The only thing was it could have been louder, but then, that’s just me.

Somehow I managed to leave the Mecano gig and popped over to see Jah Wobble run through his set to a half empty main hall. Hang on, this is one of the bloke’s spiritual homes, surely there should be more in... I kept pinching myself; the time was only 7:30 or so! That early? Plus I’d already seen a gig! And walking in and hearing Wobble’s band tackle Miles Davies’s electric period (Wobble’s love for this stuff only matched I think by that other musical maverick genius, Julian Cope) was not something for clear heads either; certainly not somethgin for peopel coming in from the cold and wet outside. Nevertheless, Wobble, an engaging mix of showman, affable neighbour and streetwise old pro boxer, eased us through a set which felt at times like an easy going overview of his own obsessions. It could have become a wee self-indulgent but luckily Mr W picked up on that.  Following a terse instructive bark to the mixing desk, the bass got louder (to the point where it started to resonate through one’s chest in a pleasing, fuzzy throb) the horn blares got richer and more suggestive, and the existential fug (if not the sounds) of releases like Davies's In A Silent Way started seeping across the rapidly filling hall. We also got How Much Are They? from his Holder Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit collaboration before a switch saw us being herded into total dub territory, with a number of Invaders of the Hearts tracks getting an airing in a steaming dub mini symphony. It was fabulous entertainment; with an increasingly loose and compliant audience hungry for some release. Butlins in dub; fantastic! And did we get a Roland Alphonso cover?? I could have gone home happy right then.

*I forgot this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-12USsSHRJg HOW!?

Bar. Beats. Proto Baggy.Buggered.

The great thing is meeting old pals at these things. Maybe we should all start up a punk old folks home for when the time comes. I didn’t know my pal Ingmar was in the Golden Strings... My mate Mabel wants to record a song, he once blew up a drum kit too. Oscar was deejaying in the main hall and it was sounding sweet. So, Mabel this drum kit...  Ooops I’ve missed a load of bands but never mind here’s Chris and Cosey to clear that fuggy beery mess out of my head. Now, I wonder how many outside of the first bunch in here (the ones who got the flexi disc from Vinyl back in 1981) had really dug Chris and Cosey. Or their brilliant works from the mid to late 80s onwards. At present it matters not. The packed room was ample evidence that their renaissance has reached the all-consuming, post-post-modern urbanite crowd; enveloping old punks/ravers and tablet users alike, as somehow their timeless, “ur-ban” throb is the background noise in every thinking person’s head. Still; this whole Coil/TG/DVA thing was always very popular here, I remember Balance’s Coil playing to a packed room in a similar festival (New Forms) over a decade ago. And here, in the big hall, Chris and Cosey’s subliminal, pagan dance fizzed and spat out orders; existing in a space of its own, alternatively calm and then incredibly seductive, allowing that sort of pagan crackle that exists in their sound to infiltrate all fibrous material in the Melkweg’s main hall. DNA was getting fucked about with, getting rearranged... What did they play? Well I think we got some cuts from Songs From Love and Lust (did we really get some beefed up take on Driving Blind? Or Talk To Me?) but I really could be making that up. I do know we got the thumping, merciless V2 from Carter Tutti Void.  What a “band”.

Talking of great bands, (this time) from the low lands (geddit???) we decided to push our way upstairs to take in Eton Crop, but the sound was taking some time to sort out, so we went down to take in more of Chris and Cosey. Back downstairs, the set was getting increasingly dark; Cosey’s whispered, slightly ghostly incantations spreading deeper and deeper through the room; acting as a sort of Elven mist rolling in from a moor. People were lost in the visuals, that big C & C logo revolving behind the two figures on the stage, looking like some old Celtic brooch, and adding to the ancient feel of the space we now inhabited. We could have been anywhere.

Head duly buggered, we trooped back upstairs for Eton Crop, now happily rid of sound demons. One of those great lost bands of the Netherlands, though still within active memory distance, so to speak, the Crop somehow pulled off a show that reactivated a lot of why I’d played that Dutch compilation LP I’d taped off a mate back in 1987 or so. They still managed to sound restless and as grimy as their recordings, a sort of gritty and punky corner shop soul, a sound that ran in direct parallel with British acts like Inspiral Carpets, Soup Dragons or The Loft. Actually, it was such a good set it was a shame that this show wasn’t in the small hall not upstairs. You know when you see a band play like this, so urgently and with so much focus and venom, it (the gig) should have been blessed with a bigger sound and a bit more of a presence. But fuck it, for those there it was great,  and I heard some things I thought I’d never ever hear live, such  What Goes Up, (Noisy Town) and It’s My Dog, Maestro (couldn’t believe that when I heard that...).

So, in summation,  an urgent set, not really resting on any laurels or playing to an appreciative crowd (that they were going to get a good reception from their old mates was a given) but rather blasting out a really tough, committed gig that felt much more exciting and – well – “relevant” than a lot of contemporary acts.  In some ways the sound these mid to late 80s NL acts knocked out  are now being (unwittingly) spat out again through the current crop of bands and labels, (with Subroutine especially acting like some reincarnation of Creation, albeit with even less money and even more industry distrust) such as the Naïve Sets, Apneus and Afterpartees of this world. Maybe these bands should start worshipping at the feet of Eton Crop.

No rest for the wicked! Interview duties with Jah Wobble meant I missed a shitload of stuff from Lydia Lunch and the Estranged, but luckily, whilst fowling my breeks in anticipation of chatting to Mr Wardle, I was able to take on board a very enjoyable, though provoking set from e.M. in the cinema, and mighty bleak and Trabant-ish it was too. Interview over, (having rabbited on for an hour, Gadzooks! How!?), it was downstairs to take in Peter Hook and the Light run through Joy Division and New Order’s back catalogue. I was lucky to walk in on all the PCL stuff, my all-time favourite of theirs and one of the first and most formative records I ever bought as a wondering 13 year old back in the Jurassic Era. Your Silent Face, 586, Your Silent Face and Ecstasy (fucking Ecstasy! I ask you!) just sounded immense, especially when you shut your eyes. What’s with all the pointing and posturing Hooky?  I mean... Anyway, eyes wide open or not, deep down we all KNEW it wasn’t the real, real thing; the thing that made NO so indecipherably special. But then, as I’ve hinted at before in this review, what is the real thing now? Is it the sensation of “real” we had back in the 80s? Probably not. After a quick break, the band came back to round off with Temptation, Ceremony and Blue Monday. This greatest hits bit was great fun too, even if it did feel like we were watching some weird kind of MTV video made flesh.  But it was fine you know? I enjoyed it and actively banished all other thoughts from my head. For, just hearing those songs at that kind of volume makes you realise what an absolutely brilliant band New Order were back in the 80s and thank fuck I got to see them then. I suppose that’s about the best way to put it.   

After this we couldn’t face the onslaught of Pop1280 even if they are an absolutely brilliant band. I suspect that was the case with a number of people too, especially those whose memory banks had received a severe jolting. Bedfordshire beckoned.

Good fun! Top night! Modern life, weird huh?