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Are You Looking For Mental? The Live Return Of Eighties Matchbox
Luke Turner , November 2nd, 2012 13:25

Brighton's madcap punk/goth thrashers Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster made a scorching return to the fray this week, writes Luke Turner, and just in the nick of time

Photo by Rachael Emily

About a decade ago, British guitar music was in rude health – not that the mainstream media let you know about it. Led largely by groups from London, Brighton and Wales, there was a violent, intelligent reaction to what was going on at the time – lumpen, moronic American nu metal, post-Travis indie drippage, and formulaic electronic music for graphic designers and web entrepreneurs who still had enough money left from the dot com boom to purchase limited edition trainers.

Ikara Colt, Kaito, Mclusky, Martini Henry Rifles, The Beatings, British Sea Power, Electrelane, The Parkinsons... I didn't even necessarily like all of these bands, but there was a sense that something exciting was brewing. Before the internet really got its claws into music, it was also a time when going to gigs was a crucial part of discovering new sounds... and so it was that I would find myself at Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster events sometimes two or three times every week.

They were, simply, one of the most ferocious live groups you'd ever want or hope to see. Guy McKnight, with his straggling farmhand hair, would put so much into his performance that by the end of most gigs his bare chest would be covered in vomit. Bassist Sym playing in a turban and suit. Guitarists Andy Huxley and Marc Norris, tattooed and contorted over their instruments... A debut album that clocked in at less than half an hour yet was packed with lunatic, hilarious pop songs. A debt of £666,666 to their record label Universal. A vintage car with fire stripes painted down the side (that did always break down). No wonder Swells fucking loved them.

But it all went awry... Andy Huxley left, to form death jazz maniacs Vile Imbeciles. Back then, perhaps the world wasn't ready for Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. They were part of that very British tradition of looking great, writing (albeit supercharged) pop songs for the milkman to whistle to, having a sense of humour, style and aggressive performance. Instead, the world was ready for The Libertines, whose occupation of the media (and terrible monkeytailed slipstream of The View, The Others, etc) stifled more enticing prospects. This reverting to anodyne indie type in Britain was accompanied by America starting to squirt slacker bromide over the Atlantic... and that was us, unfortunately, fucked and yet not fucked.

Because that's what Eighties Matchbox were all about – a proper, British, sleazy, shagging rock & roll band. But did they need to come back? I had my doubts... doubts that are dispelled within about thirty seconds of them coming onstage. For a start, the reaction is as intense as when I saw Suede do their comeback at the 100 Club back in 2010. Like them, Eighties have a point to prove. Interestingly, most of the people doing all the screaming around the Quietus down the front are female, and must have been about nine or 10 when they first emerged.

Within the opening 'Freud's Black Muck' it's clear that Eighties Matchbox are back, want it, and are heading off somewhere new. Never mind The Birthday Party or Bad Seeds comparisons – as soon as they hit their stride tonight, it suddenly strikes me that Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster were a Grinderman prototype before Grinderman were a twinkle in a naughty uncles' eye. Their ludicrous blue ball caricature of masculinity - "I'm a man a driving my Mercedes... all the dames a want a mah babies... because I'm a man wild and crazy... I can make you sleep with the fishes" in 'Team Meat', or the despairing wail of "We'll I've just got to get laid" in 'Tin Man' - certainly rings with Grinderman's unquenchable blues rock horn. Tonight, McKnight certainly looks the part. Those long locks are gone – now he sports an undercut, fringe, and handlebar moustache, a lurid shirt. He looks like a scion of Brideshead down his luck and hawking hardcore pornography in Soho, 1972. He's already down the front, over the crowd, looking shocked at the adulation.

I'd challenge anyone who thought Eighties Matchbox were posing dilettantes to witness the fury of this show and not eat their words. To these ears, what they missed for so long, and what they needed back, was Andy Huxley on guitar. In the intervening years, album after album of joyous dissonance with Vile Imbeciles (a band who, if they were American and didn't dress up, would be massive) has honed his ability to drop in utterly ferocious lumps of guitar all over the set tonight. You can feel the juddering of Huxley's new band all over the shop, but always delivered in exactly the right spot – precision bomb dropping. But it's not just him who's making Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster suddenly emerge as one of the heaviest guitar pop bands we've got in Britain today. McKnight's vocals have become terrifying blastbeats, not the gutteral honking of metal, always something fruitier. The rest of the band, too, are playing out of their skins, honed and mean.

In the ludicrous vaudeville of 'Puppy Dog Snails' McKnight is out miles in the crowd, past a badly made pig's head... For 'Giant Bones' Huxley's guitar belches and roars and makes no sense as McKnight stands glistening and gaunt. In 'Team Meat' Huxley's sticking his arse right proper out. 'Fishfingers' is like sticking your head in an wind tunnel at full pelt, only for the aero engineers workie to drop iron filings in the other end. Curiously, despite the fact that everything tonight is twice the fury of the already ferocious performances of ten years ago, their pop sensibilities stand out all the clearer, especially on the excoriating roar of 'Psychosis Safari' - simply, this is a bigger, bolder, harder band than the one that fizzled out a few years ago.

Tonight is everything Eighties Matchbox always had, but with the bad vibes of young nerves squeezed brutally out, the bad vibes of wondering if it's a good idea (and what they've been up to since) twisted in. There's no sense at all of nostalgia. Now we've got over the decade of "what the" and "who gives a" fuck, and glorious, funny, sensual, clever music is exploding all over the shop, perhaps it's time to, well, fuck. I would not it past the realms of possibility that for Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster there is fresh flesh to be bit, and that this is an entirely new beginning.