LIVE REPORT: Broken Flag Weekender
, May 11th, 2012 08:49
Last weekend, long-running noise label Broken Flag celebrated their 30th anniversary with a weekend of blistering sounds at London's Tufnell Park Dome. Mat Colegate left with his hair singed
Naturally, the merchandise tables look particulary exciting at this event. You want to buy everything on them. The tapes, magazines, pamphlets and CDrs, with their artwork ranging from the daffy to the slightly alarming. All competing, it seems, to give you the utmost amount of information, sometimes by bombarding you with imagery and figures, often by saying very little at all. All of this is a large part of the noise scene’s appeal - the sheer amount of stuff it generates. Ideas jiggle for space, Xeroxed, boxed, stamped and scrawled, all fascinating and vital but, in total, a bit overwhelming. This anniversary celebration of the founding of pioneering noise and extreme music label Broken Flag - started 30 years ago by Gary Mundy, since aided and abetted by various noise stalwarts, ranging from members of Whitehouse to members of Stereolab - looks to be a good way to get an overview of the nebulous scene as it stands today.
Oddly enough one of the highlights of the first night is Con-Dom. Certainly the most ‘traditional’ Power Electronics artist on the bill (the name stands for ‘Control and Domination’, after all) his tight, controlled set comes as a surprise. The proliferation of acts like Wolf Eyes, with their fun-for-all-the-family approach to the harsh stuff, has meant that noise’s connection with so-called transgressive behaviour has been loosened somewhat of late. Someone has clearly forgotten to tell Con-Dom this, however, and he puts on a feral show, morbid back-projections, shirtless posturing and all. However, due to the diversity of the rest of the bill as well as his rigid commitment, the show is refreshing. A focused breath of foul air, standing in sharp contrast with the earlier set from France’s Le Syndicat, who don’t play for long enough for their mix of piercing electronics and broken, Bomb Squad-esque beats to really cohere.
But the undoubted highlight of the first night is the set from Broken Flag head honcho Gary Mundy’s long-serving scree-champions, Ramleh. Given that Gary and his partner in din, Anthony DiFranco, have been doing this for nigh on thirty years, you expect a certain amount of professionalism and know-how, but they exceed expectations with a ferocious set that leaves me lamenting all the times I’ve spent stood in front of laptop prodding dullards making vague gestures toward extremity. Quite simply, people, this is how you do this stuff. Titanic blocks of sound hover in the air before you, merging and crashing into each other like oil slicked waves. The two men on stage are quiet. No posturing, no acknowledging the audience, just concentration on their faces as they push the sound to absurd levels of intensity. By the end of their short set I’m grinning like an idiot on Idiot Day and lamenting my meagre funds, which prevent me from splashing out on a ton of their merch. Looking at my notebook later that night reveals that under their name I have written ‘acid gazpacho cannon’. That seems pretty accurate.
Unfortunately circumstances ensure that I cannot attend the last day of the weekender. So the question at this point is, after two whole days of music this ferocious, am I going to want more? I’m certainly pretty pumped for Saturday, but sometimes a little of this stuff can go a long way.
On the second day the highlights start early with a frazzled set from young Italians Lettera 22, whom I had already warmed to thanks to their kindly understanding when I attempted to wander off (accidentally, of course) with one of their pints the night before. Their set is tight and to the point. Massive bass whomps battle it out with arrhythmic jibber-jabber and rattling splinters of sound. They are also the only band of the weekend, to my knowledge, to cause a speaker stack to fall over. I was kind of wishing that it had caught fire, but you can’t win ‘em all.
M.T.T. (or Mauro Teho Teardo, as his friends call him) benefits from demonstrating a more measured approach. The sounds drift past rather than assaulting, building into the kind of stately drone that puts me in mind of the majesty of S.P.K.’s Zamia Lehmanni album. Saturday also features the first performance in many a year from Anthony DiFranco’s JFK project. Rejoined on stage by Gary Mundy, JFK deliver the kind of groaning sludge that brings back memories of drum machine propelled powermongers such as Godflesh and Big Black. During their set I notice that a large, angry red welt has appeared on my neck. It seems appropriate.
Matt Bower of Skullflower’s collaboration with Gordon Sharp of Cindytalk, under the name Black Sunroof!, presents an intriguing prospect. So it’s a shame that, to begin with, the set appears to suffer from the same lack of focus that stopped me completely getting into the Skullflower set of the previous day. However as time goes on the strung out, scorched tonalities elicited from guitar and violin by Bower and fellow Skullflower member Samantha Davies begin to merge with Sharp’s voice in unexpected, fascinating ways, while Sharp’s performance gives off a weird, hypnotic pull. It’s beautiful, man.
Next (following a food hunt which leads to me missing Grunt’s set, which frustratingly I heard very good things about) comes the prospect of long-standing Spanish noiseniks Esplendor Geometrico. The recent revival of interest in all things Electronic Body Music gives EG’s crunching rhythms a surprisingly up-to-the-minute sheen and the duo’s sheer enthusiasm for the performance wins me and a good portion of the crowd over pretty quickly. By the end of their set I’m left with a previously unfelt urge to wear leather shorts and fist a leopard. It’s fun, is what I’m saying.
But the act that I confess to being the most excited to see are up next. Consumer Electronics, brainchild of teen noise prodigy and former Whitehouse and Ramleh member, Philip Best. Over the last few months the CE track ‘Black Cotton Wool’ has come to assume a pivotal place in my playlist. Dense and suffocating, it churns on for 13 relentless minutes, growing in stature and might as it goes. A brilliant example of harsh noise at its meditational, violent best. It doesn’t get performed tonight (I didn’t really expect it to be, Consumer Electronics shows have the reputation for showy provocation familiar from Best’s time in Whitehouse) but I’m not disappointed.
Joined onstage by Mundy, DiFranco and Sarah Froelich, Best wastes no time in calling the audience ‘a bunch of cunts’ before lurching into a stream of invective that is swiftly all but eviscerated by the remorseless racket surrounding him. This now middle-aged, bald man strips off, shoves his hand down his leather trousers, licks pictures of adolescent girls that he tears from a handy magazine and generally acts like everyone’s worst nightmare of a drunk uncle. ‘What the fuck is that all about then?’ he repeatedly screams while jabbing his finger at the crowd, resembling an irate newsagent furiously scanning a particularly lurid Daily Mail headline. It’s at points like these, or those moments when Best simply takes the mic away from his mouth and yowls the lyrics unamplified into the gale of noise, that Consumer Electronics achieve transcendence.
Music that exerts utter domination on its surroundings ends up reversing in on itself, becoming more concerned with weakness and frailty, with the pointlessness of screaming at a world that won’t shut up for long enough to listen to you. It’s moving, and the massive smile on my face stays there for the duration of the set. It’s a perfect end to the weekend and I leave crackling with energy and sore about missing the next day’s line-up, promising as it does a set from the legendary New Blockaders, amongst others. So the answer to my earlier question is, I guess, ‘More’. I want more. More racket, more provocation, more pamphlets and hopelessly limited cassette releases, more fury and sweat and fun. 30 years more would be a good start.
Header photo: Ramleh