Xaxaxa, Mannheim, Ell Sol, Sub071, Leiden, 6/10/14


Off to SUB we go! Incendiary nearly ran down to the greatest rock and roll bike shed in the country if not the world to see a blistering line up. Man, how do SUB do it? Macedonian punk/postrock of considerable genius, Dutch noise, and Catalonian folk? For a fiver? All done on the hop, on a shoestring, and with no recourse to subsidy, or marketing or any other depressing nonsense that keeps so many no-marks in jobs they can’t do.

First up we had, a genial lad called Ell Sol, who regaled us with a set of Catalan folk songs. I’m no expert but does Catalonian balladry involve a lot of sighing, whispering, squawking and screeching? Well regardless if it does or it doesn’t we got that; as well as a few strange chord changes and a whole new – and very rhythmical – approrach to playing a guitar (using a tuning fork on the guitar body to create a set of vibrations which then formed the basis for a further excursion full of growls and sighs). It was a charming and very surprising show, it must be said and despite the lad’s worries about opening for two heavy acts like Manneim and XaXaXa, a perfect aperitif. Loved it.

Next up were Mannheim; who boast Otto from Dead Neanderthals in their ranks. This fact alone meant that we punters were battening down the hatches in preparation for a fair old dollop of high quality, high intensity noise; driven by Otto’s baritone sax and propped up on a sonic silver dais by the other lads’ guitars and drums. Mannheim, bedecked in black, and for the most part sporting beards that wouldn’t have shamed the retinue of Admiral Tirpitz, proceeded to beat out a racket that was by turns incredibly loud and – yes – bloody inspiring. The reason is, they control both the noise they generate and the nuances of that noise extremely well. What do I mean by this? Well, Mannheim’s noise isn’t just a dynamic, nor is it a noise to show off with, nor just an expression of feeling; for sure there was a lot of all of that in their show,  but they managed to make the noise they made (and as a by product your experience of it) into an element that you could stand aside from and enjoy in the abstract. That make sense? Sorry about that explanatory waffle, but it WAS very noticeable that the gig was equally enjoyable outside in SUB’s little corridor, in the blast furnace of the bike shed proper, or standing in the smoking corridor. It was tremendous, controlled, punchy, full of the elemental joys.

After that it was no use feeling a bit whacked, as we had the mighty Xaxaxa to deal with. Three of these lads are in the brilliant Bernays Propaganda, most beloved of this magazine. And their own records are angry, enervating punk howls that shake up the spirit even if you have no bloody idea what they are about. Though Xaxaxa’s leasder Vasko did tell me that there was a whole load of references to football in the 1980s. Fair enough.

A mix of Jane’s Addiction, Hüsker Dü and the odd foray into Joy Division soundscapes (the fuzzy, buzzy, Warsaw / Digital side of Joy Division) and early American Music Club, Their music is built round setting up a fast-paced, choppy groove, and the audience’s job is to get on the train, and go along for the increasingly dizzy, knockabout ride. There is this loose, cavalier spirit about them, despite the fact that they are tighter than most bands I’ve ever seen with Vasko leading the charge with the odd lick or riff. Things got heady, sweaty, with Vasko’s barks and declamations kicking everyone (metaphorically) up the arse. They are totally believeable and inspirational as a live act, even if the whole Hüsker Dü thing isn’t your scene; and by the end you couldn’t ever imagine listening to any other band. A great gig.

Off into the night, enlightened, enervated, happy. SUB, when you go it’s going to leave a big whole in Leiden’s Head scene.