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FESTIVAL REPORT: Monkey Week
Laurie Tuffrey , November 21st, 2014 17:34

Despite being put out by an almost complete lack of monkeys, Laurie Tuffrey is pleased to find the Spanish showcase festival does nonetheless pack in a host of fine new bands

Photograph courtesy of Javier Rosa

Getting proceedings going at this year's Monkey Week, taking place in El Puerto de Santa María, a small town in the country's southwest which impressively lays claim to both featuring in the Odyssey and for being the spot from which Christopher Columbus set sail for his second American expedition, are Pelo Mono. They couldn't really be a finer choice of opening act, given that a) their name translates roughly as "monkey hair" and b) the drummer of this dapperly suited two-piece matches his guitarist bandmate's Mexican wrestler mask with a gorilla number. This does rapidly call to mind that silverback chap hammering out Phil Collins to sell some chocolate bars, but this image soon gets dispelled. Pedro de Dios, whose day job is with blues outfit Guadalupe Plata, fingerpicks his electric guitar, working up a drone pattern that nods towards Eastern scales, before wringing out some rootsy blues, settling into dexterous, hazed-out Chuck Berry riffing. Occasionally he pulls out some Morricone-style tremolo-picked lines or lays on a slapback delay that ricochets around Bar Santa Maria's rooftop stage. Beneath this, Antonio Pelomono, is busy rapping out the barest of rhythms on a drum kit comprising an upturned bin for a floor tom, a bucket, adorned with a chilli and, continuing the primate-friendly theme, banana pattern and a rather attractive and sonorous dark tan leather suitcase for a kick drum. The band do begin to stomp over the same ground four songs in, but nonetheless, it's a fine start to the festival, combining as they do some masterful two-piece interplay and a bracingly efficient visualisation of said festival's name.

Back on top of Bar Santa Maria on Friday, Nelson Can are delivering one of the festival's finest performances. The Copenhagen trio's visceral three-minute songs, dealt out with a drilled, businesslike efficiency from singer Selina Gin and the supremely tight rhythmic duo of Signe SigneSigne and Maria Juntunen, mesh a give-a-fuck punkishness with fuzzed-up bass riffs and powerhouse drumming, best distilled on the aptly-titled 'Glorious' and 'Go Low' from their debut album Now Is Your Time To Deliver, self-released in September.

Gin also has a predilection for wandering into the crowd, sometimes assimilating herself within, others staring down men in the audience, which, both tonight and again at the El Niño Perdio bar tomorrow, makes for some spectacularly uncomfortable and thereby brilliant reactions. Some of those Gin sets her eyes on become acutely aware of just how awkward arranging their limbs can be, but better is the latecomer who walks straight into Gin's path at El Niño, at first dancing along with cocksure pride, apparently taking his singling out as a vast compliment, a sense which dissipates with a powerful rapidity once it becomes clear she's toying with him, facing him down with an unflinching glare. Both sets are brilliantly to-the-point, rendered with a singularity of purpose - the band reintroduce themselves and count down the number of songs they have left in-between each one - and by the time they close with 'Are You High' from this year's EP2, Gin's voice now a primed howl, the venues are full to bursting with broadly-grinning - Gin's human props have come round and are sharing in this too - crowds.

Barely visible over a packed-to-overspill crowd are Deers. The Madrid band, centred around founders Ana Garcia Perrote and Carlotta Cosials, and now made a four-piece, adding some teeth to their recorded output, deal out sunshine pop rendered in a slacker finish. This could be grating - in fact, 'Trippy Gum's vocal hook fairly rapidly gets wearing on this year's two-track DEMO - but live, the band's guitar melodies sound fresh, especially when combined with Stephen Malkmus-esque rhythmic scrubbing and intermittent howls of vocals. That they close by answering calls for an encore by unfurling a song whose lyrics are hooked around asking Davy Crockett what he's got in his locket rendered in deliberately terrible vocal harmonies is disarmingly funny. Whether they continue down this path or take a different route remains to be seen, but it's hard to deny their live performance as being a blast.

Playing in the early hours of next morning are Unicornibot, a band who like to play their head-spinning sprawls of prog-tinged instrumental rock while donning tin foil horn-helmets and swigging from a bottle of rum they hand round. And why not? Even though their stage time of 3.30 am has been long since overshot, they still take part in a ritualistic en-foiling of each other's heads before diving into some sprawling bouts of riffing, which turn through labyrinthine rhythmic twists, hammered out with precision by their drummer, recalling The Mars Volta's headiest moments. It's a blindsidingly ace choice of closer for Saturday night, and the sheer complexity of the music does nothing to dispel a rapidly-massing crowd of headbangers congregating in front of the Sala Mucho Teatro's stage.

Similarly tight as fuck are tight-as-fuck Mexican two-piece Yokozuna who churn out some behemothic hard rock with nothing less than total conviction. Guitarist and frontman Arturo Tranquilino's strangulated howl is matched by some mightily impressive riffing and soloing, while the drummer, Antonio, his brother, possessed of a fine, fine mane, looms over his kit battering it to the point of near-destruction, as open-mouthed with excitement by his powerhouse fills as the crowd are. When they kill the songs dead, the reverberation echoes out over the Guadalete river. Ramping things up for the close, Arturo lifts his guitar behind his head and slips in the riff to Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid' (at their second set at Mondongo tonight, this gets exchanged for a dead-on run-through of Nirvana's 'Territorial Pissings'), closed by borrowing a nearby punter's beer glass as a guitar slide. Not to be outdone, his brother unfurls a ludicrous drum solo, mouthing some drowned-out incantation along to it. To say it gets the crowd going would be an understatement - one of the bar's waiters, busy sorting something out in the store cupboard behind the stage, casts aside his task and goes in for some barely-concealed pogoing, and at the Mondongo show, Arturo loses his glasses as the crowd rush the stage. Afterwards, and with glasses duly replaced over eyes wild with excitement, he observes: "I hoped you guys would be into it, I just didn't realise you'd be that into it."

As much as the music, the festival's a key life force for the area's culture. The festival's organisers, El Puerto natives, make deft use of the town, nestling the outdoor stage beside San Marcos Castle, bettered only by the series of gigs inside a dilapidated 18th century merchant's house, hidden up one of the town's side streets. It is, however, in one of Spain's poorest regions, Andalucía, suffering one-third employment. If anything, this underscores the importance of the festival: not only does it bring in 4,000 people to the town, bolstering the local economy, but, as much as a showcase for new bands, it unites the town's residents in helping to put it on, whether opening up their homes as venues, as in the case of the merchant's house owner, bars hosting off-festival gigs or lending technical assistance. As one English expatriate living here tells me, Monkey Week is the highlight of the town's cultural calendar, a summary that's hard to beat.

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