Lone Taxidermist and Wrangler at the Servant Jazz Quarters

The Servant Jazz Quarters has been the scene of many a wonky night out for some years now.

It started off as a beastly squat, then became an underground garden centre and eventually coughed into its current life as a progressive speakeasy-style bar and venue for the post-hip, slightly older denizens of Dalston, east London.

Tonight sees pop auteurs Lone Taxidermist and performance noisers Wrangler sprawling a glorious mess of sonics and Dadaism across this collapsing basement.

First up are Lone Taxidermist, fronted by singer Natalie Sharp (pictured), who delivers wry and “slutty” songs about staggering pissed across London and ketamine landscapes viewed through a kaleidoscope of funk, electro and glitch.

A mutating Chocolate Factory of deep bass and occasional Kate Bush vocals, Lone Taxidermist could be described as mash-up of 21st-century CAN and Jefferson Airplane, with an infectious and witty verve which sets them apart.

The deep, moody tunes seem at odds with Taxidermist’s personal affability — they don’t take themselves seriously but it’s clear that their music is everything to them.

Heading up the night are Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Mallinder’s new project Wrangler. Mallinder’s vocals are mangled through space by Phil Winter of electro folk pioneers Tunng and the ambient Benge, last seen quite inexplicably supporting the blistering Venetian Snares some years ago.

As one might expect from a coupling of such button-pushers as Winter and Mallinder, the set is provocative, occasionally deliberately artless and oppressively loud — the hallmarks of “true” punk.

While Phil Winter’s live vocal treatments for Lone Taxidermist are carefully held back to accommodate the over-arching tone, they go well and truly bat-shit by the time Wrangler get involved — this may not be everyone’s idea of a winter night in.


First published in the Morning Star

Polar Bear – Xoyo

I, like most reasonable people, abhor the saxophone. Seeing two saxophonists on stage with anything other than a big band (also bad) will make me about turn and shelter myself at the bar. But for Polar Bear, it’s ok.

Coupled with the humanity of Tom Herbert’s double bass and the Magellan of Max/MSP, Leafcutter John, there’s enough ambition and invention to forgive even a pair of these honking brass crimes, played stunningly by Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart.

Band leader Seb Rochford nestles anonymously behind his kit, adding colour to the almost sinister palette his band are cooking up. In this world, playing the kit as a kit seems alien and intrusive.

As the evening mutates, Herbert and Rochford lock in to straight-ish, crowd-pleasing grooves, then let them dissipate into space before unpredictably pushing into harder areas, like a demo of live cartography.

What issues forth is less a representation of an album or group, but more of a set of parameters and ideas which can be taken away and reassembled by the listener post hoc. You get what the band allow through the leaking cracks of their unusual machine.

Live, improvised electronic music is very dangerous as often only the highly skilled – that is, not just someone with a MacBook – can even come close to designing, intimately understanding and controlling a workable, original system, let alone having the fluidity to make it musical. So, if you want someone to do all this within the loose framework of a jazz band, then you go to Leafcutter John.

Leafcutter deals less in audio than data flow, through carefully measured gates, algorithms and filters, generating a kind of purity of clatter reminiscent of Autechre.

And in the middle, obscured by sound, sits savant Sebastian Rochford, calm but powerful reminder that there may well be some cosmic force drawing music and art from our baffled frames.

The Darkness – Hot Cakes

The Darkness are clearly back to take over the world with this album.

This new slice of sex opens up with Every Inch of You, a warm-hearted love song to the physical stage which supports frontman Justin Hawkins’ flamboyant flying lotus personality.

It’s a genuinely infectious and stripped-down Queen-esque anthem which warmly embraces Hawkins’s “brother and my two best mates” and sets the record straight that the group is ready to mature.

From the production of the record it’s clear that the boys have been listening to a lot of Queen — guitarist Dan Hawkins has no doubt been sneaking a look at Brian May’s setup on his occasional guest performances with the band — a position further cemented by With A Woman’s delta blues guitar figure.

Think John Deacon’s Norman Greenbaum-plundering You’re My Best Friend and put it through a glam rock filter and you’ll appreciate what they’ve been doing for the past few years.

Execution aside, it’s reassuring to see the usual Darkness themes are in place.

Anal sex — in fact, every type of sex imaginable and available to a rock star — a full appreciation of exactly how awesome oneself is, and of course, a love of rock and roll.

One track that will no doubt set internet forums alight with apoplexy is a cover of Radiohead’s Street Spirit, repurposed into a staccato, chugging metal bastard.

But it clearly comes from a respect for its originators, with a witty and brief reference to the Just, also from the Bends, which reveals that this isn’t a piss-take.

In fact, a good few songs bear a strange resemblance to early Radiohead, particularly the freewheeling grunge of Pablo Honey — a comparison I feel surpised at making.

Love Is Not The Answer seems an odd choice of closer, but then the Darkness have always been there to answer unasked questions.

The boys are most definitely back in town.

Field Day 2012

Tweaky big beat pumps from an ad hoc sound system, beautiful people mosey around under post-modern sunglasses — permanently affixed to face regardless of weather — and clumps of hay spring from the spaces in between.

When I walk past three hours later, the music’s louder and it appears there’s a permanent cloud of dried grass hovering above the revellers.

This is Field Day, and it’s now six years old. It seems difficult to imagine the very first Eat Your Own Ears/Adventures in the Beetroot Field/Bugged Out all-dayer in 2007 — a well-intentioned event sorely plagued by planning and audio issues — sharing a lineage with the hipster calendar cornerstone that it is today.

To descend upon Hackney’s recently refurbished Victoria Park and see one of the best small festivals in Britain is a charming encouragement. This isn’t even a small festival any more.

Shrewdly spaced over most of the park, the layout perfectly isolates stage sound as well as giving each corner its own identity beyond the typical “main stage, alt stage, dance tent” setup.

First ear-grabbing act of the day was Andrew Bird, a US multi-instrumentalist whose latest album Break It Yourself is lush cut of quasi-classical modern folk whimsy fused with a country lilt, all backboned by Bird’s stunning drummer.

Rarely seen is such vocal crowd enthusiasm for a violinist — with band or otherwise — and I couldn’t help wondering if there was some link between the joyful, yielding abandon of the audience, their ever-mobile jaws and bared teeth and the highly sexed full-body dancing which I found myself an unwilling participant in. Perhaps I’m just getting old and that’s how kids dance these days.

Arguably the highlight of the weekend for many was space-funk dance outfit Metronomy, who made full use of the thankfully well-appointed sound system with staccato, intricate Prince-style synth lines and deep, macabre pop bass.

There’s a sinister magic surrounding this Devon four-piece.
Broody, wonky keys, catchy hooks and a sense of humour combine perfectly with songwriter Joe Mount’s personal maturity.

After coming off stage he seemed like he’d just had a bath rather than whipping up a crowd of thousands into a gurning orgy of music.

In what could easily be called a misjudgement in programming, following Metronomy’s devastatingly dancable set was Beirut, every self-respecting scenester’s favourite US post-gypsy mariachi chanson group.

While Beirut rarely disappoint with their sleazy ballads, one couldn’t help feeling that the jawgrinders in attendance would have been able to prolong their buzz a little longer had these bands swapped positions.

Closing proceedings were Franz Ferdinand, a band who I mistakenly presumed had long retired from public performance.

Despite being ignorant of running orders for the whole day — the mark of true, bleeding-edge hipness — I was queasily surprised to find such an anodyne group putting the festival to bed.

While clearly capable of writing the odd radio-saturating hit single, Franz’s musical and instrumental simplicity offers a prim reminder that their brash, angular pop is actually rather flimsy.

But where else can you find a 10-hour, no-questions-asked straw fight on a Saturday in east London?

Camille at the Barbican

Having seen Parisian singer Camille in the golden oven of the Hackney Empire last year I was prepared for this Barbican installment to be an intimate and classy show, most likely a two-set set encompassing a run-through of her latest album Ilo Veyou and her “plus grands succès.”

But I wasn’t prepared for the absolutely stunningly inventive, world-class minimalism of the staging and music. Nor could I have been adequately briefed on the flawless charm of Camille herself.

Self-effacing, pitch perfect and frankly beautiful, she commands the sparse set for nearly two hours while a single incandescent light bulb suspended from the roof acts as a delicate and powerful foil to the music, effortlessly embodying an embryo, a child, a lover, a star, a universe.

Using this most simple of theatrical devices, she distills the audience into the palm of her hand, their stunned attention saluting her originality and the auditorium swelling with the silent, spectral clatter of mouths falling open en masse.

Camille’s typically wry, play on words songwriting and demeanour was exercised to its full in everything from her patter, audience manipulation and good-humoured piss-taking of the French stereotype, subtly underscored by a tasteful push of a backlit tricolore and a comic vignette from a melodramatic, Anglophobic dance-instructing character.

This occasionally touring show is not a pop concert but an overwhelming piece of art, and absolutely without a doubt, Camille is a rare and vital creative force. Never lose sight of her.

Camille – Ilo Veyou

Parisian singer Camille’s fourth studio album further pushes her already unimpeachable song craft toward the songwriting hall of fame in which she rightly belongs.

Far away are the tongue in cheek disco pop slabs of Music Hole — Ilo Veyou is closer in tone to the more conceptually aligned Le Fil, and just as personal.
Having children often douses artists in saccharine fluid, leaving them unable to escape the cooing sentimentality which their offspring invoke. To quote alt rapper Sage Francis, “Don’t use kiddies as an excuse to make horrible music please.”
Camille has managed to side step this peril and tastefully embrace her womanhood through the organic heartbeat of Aujourd’hui, while retaining her inimitable wordplay whimsy in tracks like Mars Is No Fun.
Her recent European tour exhibited an astonishing level of ambition in its humble and imaginative theatricality.
Very few multiple platinum artists have the nerve to simply lie down on stage under a bare incandescent bulb or to render a suite of songs in silhouette. These aren’t cheap gimmicks. Rather they are testament to the singer’s attention to detail, harking back to the not-just-music ethos she picked up as an occasional vocalist for La Nouvelle Vague.
If you’ve not heard this utterly brilliant auteur, make it a priority.

The Voluntary Butler Scheme – The Granddad Galaxy

Voluntary Butler Scheme is a one-man band sounding like the distilled cream of 20 years of pop, big beat, folk and concrete.

Rob Jones’ louche, northern dream-singing remains present, awash with muted, jangling weirdness reminiscent of Sergeant Pepper on acid.

Hiring A Car — an untouchably wonderful non sequitur of a title — is a deceptive opener, built around a child-like melody interspersed with precision-engineered stuttering beats and cut up chimes.

This kind of delicacy can only come from the underrated process of staying up in your bedroom staring at a screen night after night for months — the prohibitive costs of “professional” studio time simply don’t allow for this kind of indulgence, but neither the artistry or impeccable production suffer whatsoever. 

There’s a sense of understated pride running through this album, brought on by the solid songwriting and leftfield engineering style that would make Prefuse 73 smile. 

Strongly recommended.

The Water Tower Bucket Boys – Where The Crow Don’t Fly

Title track Meet Me Where The Crow Don’t Fly opens this disc with a deliciously awkward flavour – pinched in the middle like a sad balloon – and an honest, nicotine yellow diaphragm rasp with a restrained tension which aches beautifully and without pretense.

After a strong start at the pen of Kenny Feinstein comes a disappointing drop into straight bluegrass in the shape of Walkin’ The Road, wherein Josh Rabie exhibits some excellent mandolin work.

Easy Way Out – the golden winner of the five – kicks off with an upbeat punch of lolloping, roomy drums from Caleb Klauder and life-affirming bittersweet lyrics, but the song is over and out far too early. Such teasing can be suicidally dangerous for a five-track EP.

R Song bookends the disc with its mellow, tuned percussion and slow-attack of haunting atmosphere, and it could be comfortably tucked into a hidden track on a Grandaddy album to make an impressive sign off in such a place, but again its brevity undermines its appeal.

This is an exercise in understatement from a group of exceptionally talented and surprisingly young group of bluegrassers.

Chris Cunningham at the Roundhouse

Chris Cunningham is a perfectionist of the highest order, and this is evident in every aspect of this rare live show – rare in the sense that music video directors practically never sell out 3,000-capacity venues – from the perfect symmetry of the building and the elegant proportions of the giant projector screen triptych to the abominable penetrative capacity of the sub-bass speaker arrays which are flown like rhomboid bats above the audience.

Proceedings open with a sober eulogy for the recently deceased Cunningham collaborator Gil Scott-Heron, a skilful vortex of blinking lights meditating on the rhythms and geometry of the New York subway system, reminiscent of the twinkling, cinematic trip hop aesthetic which directors such as Jonathan Glazer pushed in the late ’90s.

This is a strangely understated opener for a provocational artist such as Cunningham, but of course things very quickly become unimaginably strange. A young girl lays in suburban slumber – complete with teddy bear – when an invisible presence crackles into her sleep to perform an unimaginably brutal clinical examination on her with unseen instruments, fierce bolts of energy and extremely sinister goings-on.

Split-frame accurate and cracklingly sharp, this vignette is beyond dark and menacing, but it still bears the unmistakable hallmarks of Cunningham’s whimsy, which one can’t help but compare to wonky hallucinogenic nights spent playing with rubber bands.

The harrowing themes of alien abduction, interference, blind surrender and external control are set in place for the evening, followed by a near comical remixed assault of the Horrors’ debut single Sheena Is A Parasite, an exercise in submission and terror.

The ambition of each subsequent video – all expertly spliced across the side and centre screens with a bang-on precision and a groundbreaking laser show – vastly increases with each iteration.

Cunningham classic Rubber Johnny is stretched and bent into epic proportions, the ominous notion of electrical control of humans and genome abuse is tinkered with to shocking effect, turning bodies – not people – into organic drum machines in the most abhorrent sense.

Closing the evening is what appears to be the slow death of a woman at the hands of machines – perhaps other worldly – which ties the front and back of the evening together in a humanist loop.

Cunningham hints at the unimaginable techno horrors perpetrated in bunkers deep underground, in spaceships and in places unknown with technical skill and artistic vision which – without hyperbole – is absolutely unsurpassed.

It’s very rare to witness a genius at work in one’s own time, but that is without a doubt what Cunningham is: “The strangest object ever seen.”

To quote aesthetic theorist Charles Webb: “It’s the most terrifying nightmare that I don’t want to wake up from.”