By the time their tsunami of sound abated, the place was so overcrowded it felt like being back in the D.H.S.S. in the 1980’s.
Air Cav and Daniel Land and the Modern Painters – Sub 071 Leiden, Vera Groningen, 17-18/04/09
Richard: Now take note; some things in life are important, some are not. And this is a premise that also applies to the rarefied pastures of rock journalism. Take note once more: the essence of Rock and Roll is not captured by glossy mag features asking Noel Gallagher about the government, nor is it article number 45376456 about the Kinks’ re-mastered outtakes (1967-70). No. It’s about spending your late grandfather’s legacy to ensure two relatively unknown UK bands beat a French fisherman’s blockade and play a squat and a basement in Holland. And all music journalists should be celebrating the fact that the people who really matter, the underground shifters, fixers and foot soldiers of Rock will go to such lengths for others’ entertainment…
Sub 071, Leiden
Damian: “It’ll be cloudy,” they said. “It’ll rain,” they said. “It’s gonna fucking piss it down all day,” they said. What do they know? Leiden was drenched in… sunshine. Warm and wholesome sunshine bathing us all and evening’s venue alike. Now then, music venues come in all shapes and sizes, but there aren’t too many that can boast a half acre sand pit and a pet cemetery as part of their back stage area, (which was once a lake – Richard) but Sub 071 isn’t your normal venue.
An abandoned office building turned into the kind of squat/commune everybody used to imagine Amsterdam was full of (and it used to be, believe me), Sub 071 takes everybody by surprise the first time they clap eyes on it. The graffiti may cause you to jump to tabloid conclusions, but the place wins you over quickly. Maybe it’s the bar, which is essentially a man standing by a fridge. Maybe it’s the punch bag that dangles as you enter the living quarters, or the collection of old sofas that welcome your tired arse, or even the original Bubble Bobble arcade machine that provides a nostalgic soundtrack to your vegan meal time. Perhaps it’s the fabulous rock and roll toilets, complete with pigeon English graffiti.
“Change your way’s not your under where!”
Whatever it is, Sub 071 has an atmosphere that lingers with you and its piece de resistance, the ‘venue’ itself is essentially a concrete bunker of a room, a broom cupboard draped in curtains that is totally unremarkable in every way, until show-time comes around. Sub 071 is small, you could swing the proverbial cat, but there’s a good chance it could suffer massive head trauma if you did so I wouldn’t advise it. It’s a compact room, to say the least, but good things come in small packages.
Good things also come in a bright orange rental van from Manchester. Two of Manchester’s finest audio merchants, the mighty Daniel Land and the Modern Painters and sonic muscle merchants Air Cav in fact, arrived in pretty old Leiden to a welcome of Incendiary’s famous egg mayonnaise and cucumber sandwiches, washed down with a crate of the finest Pilsener and an unhealthy dollop of Krautrock before being whisked off to the giant sand pit and asked to unload.
The nerves were tangible. You could tell by the fact that they voiced fears about falling off a 6 inch high stage and, hailing from England and the land of crash barriers and burly bouncers at the front of every gig, they built a barricade of guitar cases and boxes in front of them, in fear of unruly Dutch folk. Bands always want their first away trip to be memorable, to be special, and turning up to a giant sand pit and a concrete broom cupboard was not what these guys had expected, to be sure. The fact that, 20 minutes after opening time nobody had turned up didn’t help matters either, and you could sense the tension building. But then, and this is Holland after all, the people arrived, fashionably late as usual. And then more people arrived. And then even more people and in a blink of the eye, the room was full, as was the corridor outside it and the alleyway beyond that. It was show-time.
If the band weren’t prepared for the venue, then Incendiary certainly weren’t prepared for Air Cav. Both of their singles have been played regularly in the shed, and it was the strength of those two singles that made us want to bring them over to these shores, but nothing gave any indication of just how powerful this band are. Their sound surrounds you and it made the concrete bunker feel like a pressure tank. Air Cav’s sound is muscular and powerful. Chris Nield’s guitar carves out sharp, short bursts of energy as Mark Jones thumbs out infectious bass lines and drummer Allan Gaskin pounds his skins with hypnotic effect, but Sophie Parkes’ violin lets the light in, giving you something to cling on to as the whirlwind of noise swirls around you. The doom-laden atmosphere may have had something to do with the fact that they were playing in near darkness, but this was rectified slightly when one of the Sub 071 crew grabbed a broom handle and adjusted the one spotlight facing the back wall of the room (the kind you normally find hanging on the walls of a teenager’s bedroom) till it bathed a pale green light on Mark the bass player. It was one of the finest gig moments I’ve ever witnessed.
Air Cav’s songs are frantic and impassioned and threaten to explode at any moment. In fact, half way through this wonderfully ramshackle gig, they actually did as Chris Nield forgot exactly what he was supposed to be doing with his feet and guitar pedals went crazy, wires did things they’re not supposed to and a couple of songs were completely derailed, resulting in a complete car crash of white noise. No matter, audiences like it when things cock up slightly and nobody gave a shit here because, when they got themselves back up to full speed, Air Cav proved they are a force to be reckoned with.
A short time later and it was time for Daniel Land and the Modern Painters to take to the stage/floor, or should that be Daniel Land and the Effect Pedals? By the time they’d finished setting up the floor looked like a feature from What Guitar? magazine, and that’s normally enough to make me fear a noodling fest and run for the hills, but no, not tonight because as soon as they began, I was hooked.
It can be so easy for a band that has three guitars to make music that’s completely opaque and impossible to glean any sense out of. There’s the famous phrase a ‘wall of sound’ but hearing a wall of noise isn’t necessarily the best thing for your ears. You need space, texture and variations in tone and structure to make things work and Daniel Land and The Modern Painters know that instinctively. The way they layer wave upon wave of guitar noise and staple it together with some simple drum patterns and make it sound so fluid and clear is extraordinary. The concrete bunker didn’t know what had hit it. The music filled the room to the point that there was simply no alternative but to get lost in it. We didn’t have a choice.
It must be noted at this point just how pleasantly surprising the quality of sound was. Ok, the vocals for Air Cav were practically non existent at times and Daniel Land used so much reverb he sounded like he was singing into a toy echo microphone, but the balance for the rest of the instruments was exemplary, with a cunning mix of live drums and use of the back line. I’ve been in many a more ‘professional’ venue and heard much, much worse. (Paradiso I’m looking at you!) Sub 071 gives you the intimacy you always crave from a gig, but somehow manages to give you acoustics that are out of this world.
Daniel Land’s music can be termed Shoegaze, (pedal watching I’d call it), of the highest order and it simply transports you to another place entirely. At one point I closed my eyes and found myself on Sandham Bay, looking out across the seal caves to the North Sea, a favourite location of mine on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, one of my favourite places in the world. I can’t give you a better reflection of how beautiful a performance this was than that. Guitars wailed, Daniel screamed, drums pounded and it all brewed up into a set of incredible power and grace.
Richard: I’m going to say something pretentious, which I suppose is the preserve of music journalists the world over, but hey; blame it on my puppyish enthusiasm. Daniel Land and the Modern Painters created a kind of sonic Narnia in Sub 071. Sound textures morphed into colours and shapes (before this reviewer’s eyes at any rate) and a sweet, sensual atmosphere pervaded the club, especially with Off Your Face Again and Within the Boundaries, which were nothing short of wonderful. The gig, already bordering on epic, went stratospheric near the end. When Benjamin’s Room segued into a wall of noise, Sub had completely surrendered to them. An amazing night.
They came, they saw, they sold some vinyl. Job done; at least for the first part.
Part two. A bleary morning mixed with more blistering sunshine… For the bands, a steady drive North past cow and bulb fields and windmills, but for Incendiary the day began with a mad rush, some processed meat, a bag full of lager and one of the most entertaining train journeys ever experienced, with topics of conversation flitting between the greatness of the Chameleons and the lunacy of small men from Antwerp, to name but two. And as for the trauma that occurred with the simple act of opening a window in a crowded carriage, well, you simply had to be there.
To Groningen, the ‘forgotten’ city in the North of Holland and surely the crown jewel of these sunken lands. A beautiful city, with grand, almost pompous architecture and a population of people that are so nocturnal their skin is almost translucent. Groningen is one of the few European cities that truly lives up to the hype. A true 24 hour town, the place doesn’t even began to come to life until around the witching hour, which is why the gig was scheduled to kick off at 11pm, a time when most Randstad gig goers are beginning to worry about the last train home. Incendiary arrived at around 4pm, which left us a bit of time to prepare for the night ahead and sort out some business. That took about 5 minutes and a quick phone call, so we decamped to a local inn and geared ourselves up with a healthy portion of Guinness and brown ale and tales of flatulent dogs. Again, you had to be there.
After gathering a following of red nosed locals (Holland’s finest label, Subroutine Records – Richard) Incendiary members were led to to Vera. The magnificent Club Vera.
The mood of the bands was distinctly opposite to the day before. You could tell they were excited. This was a real, proper, venue. No sandpit, no cemetery, no punch bag. A proper bar, adequately stocked, and the most rock and roll wallpaper ever seen anywhere. Vera is lined with old posters of the bands that have played there – and there have been a few. Downstairs in the cellar bar, in the vault of the building, sweat began to drip from the low arched ceiling as the crowd started to build. By the time Daniel Land plucked his first guitar string, the cellar bar was pleasantly full. By the time their tsunami of sound abated, the place was so overcrowded it felt like being back in the D.H.S.S. in the 1980’s. The heat was almost unbearable.
Bathed in the kind of red light normally reserved for cheap horror movies and certain seedy local districts with large windows, both bands were welcomed with warm applause and boy did they deliver their side of the bargain. Daniel and his painters delivered a blistering set. Beautiful, haunting and completely overwhelming. The vaulted roof could barely contain the noise, the floor began to tremble and, in the toilets, the mirrors began to shake, which caused one Incendiary reporter to almost have a complete heart attack when his face started to vibrate in front of him.
The crowd were simply beaten into submission. There was no escape from this onslaught of noise and scores of people found themselves wandering downstairs, in search of a nicotine fix, and hanging around instead, shocked at the sheer force of what they were confronted with. Then, in the spirit of not giving a fuck, the band finished their set with the kind of white noise-infused wig out that My Bloody Valentine would have creamed themselves over. It was monumental.
As their epic closing number faded into the distance Vera realized that it had witnessed something truly powerful. Holy fuck this had been worth the trip and we still had Air Cav to come.
Air Cav; bloody hell. On this showing, they were something else.
If they were good the night before, they were amazing in Vera. To say they stood up to the plate would be an understatement. They took to the stage as if it really fucking meant something. This was important to them and by Christ it felt important to us too. This was one of those gigs that you were simply glad to witness. No fuck ups here, no dodgy wiring, no misplaced footsteps, just a full on assault, every member playing at full power. They were so much more impassioned, so much more alive and so much more up for it than they had been the night before.
You could tell that Chris was getting into it. The sweat was pouring out of him and, on more than one occasion, he started beating the ceiling with his fist, just to release the adrenalin flowing through him. The crowd, which was a fucking ridiculous size by now, fucking loved them. Girls started pushing to the front, just to get a better look, blokes stared longingly at Sophie. There was even a bit of bizarre floor tom worshipping going on too, by a spirited local, which drew a classic Mancunian snarling retort from Mr. Nield:
“If you’re gonna hit it, hit it! But don’t fucking fanny about with it!”
Richard: And consider this; how many unknown bands get an encore on their first Vera show? At times Air Cav caught that classic Manchester beat and ran with it; the audience felt it and started nodding, then dancing, then whooping and skirling along with the music. This was epic stuff, the cocksure dreaminess of the early Bunnymen, the big, simple stuff the Waterboys could do before they got self-important, the weird, gnomic pop that New Order could summon at will. Their debut single Alliance lifted the roof and I could swear the track nearly morphed into Ceremony at one point, which would have been something else… Frankly I haven’t seen a new British guitar band be so exciting for a good 5 years, and if you haven’t seen Air Cav yet, I urge you to do so, because you are missing out, big style.
This was an astonishing show, and brought the end of this oh-so-short weekend to a magnificent close. An Incendiary road trip of the highest order. We can’t fucking wait to do it again.
Words: Damian Leslie and Richard Foster