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Three Songs No Flash

Out Of The Drawing Room: Atoms For Peace Live
Dan Richards , July 30th, 2013 08:39

Last week, Atoms For Peace took their Drawing Room shop and installation to the Enterprise in Camden, and brought album AMOK alive in the Camden Roundhouse. Dan Richards reports. Live photographs by Valerio Berdini, Drawing Room by Dan Richards.

"It makes you think. / How an entire room can pour / From a single light bulb." – In the Electric Gallery – Gerard Woodward

The man teeters on a ladder as the crowd below crane and sway in vague, empathic echo.

Stanley Donwood, stood amongst them in the swelter of the street, grimaces and turns away, passing back into the pub as the climber strains to fix the sign to the wall above his head – 'AMOK DRAWING ROOM'. "Too hot," mutters Stanley. "Much too hot for ladders."

A room above a Camden pub has been overtaken by a vorticist storm, the dazzle camouflage of a monochrome apocalypse; Los Angeles beset by meteors. Bad bats, waves, flail palms, raining from crown mouldings, overrunning the dado rail and falling down to spattered skirting – linocut and paste stria overlaid with urgent unintelligible signs and cyphers. A palimpsest of terror, fire and flood.

Why not sit down? Here on the Atoms For Peace chaise longue. Relax in this weird pop-up headspace where ‘Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich’ shreds into ‘Donwood, Donwood, Donwood’ or, maybe, AMOK, AMOK, AMOK, AMOK…

This is the Drawing Room – a record shop which only sells one record, Atoms For Peace's AMOK, either on LP or split with each track pressed as a single-sided 12". At the back of the room on a low black stage, a frightening bearded man named D666M (apparently formerly of tQ favourites Rameses) is printing posters – some of which have the colour red on them; red like the blood from the men he looks like he might have slain in the snowy forests of Montana. Red like the chips from a Fargo chipper in this arctic banded boudoir.

You can gawp, help D666M screenprint, lounge on the longue, buy atomic shellac or barter for the bespoke zig-zag rug and furniture (everything’s for sale.)

The Drawing Room is a "warm action" – a strange happening intended to make people happy – brought to light and life by Stanley and XL Recordings in the great tradition of record companies doing daft, inventive, artistic things which terrify accountants and endear them to the listening public. Built over the course of several days in the found space of The Enterprise, The Drawing Room is what would happen if you could crawl inside Vaughan Oliver and 4AD’s 1987 wooden box of treasure, Lonely As An Eyesore, perhaps – it certainly tracks back to that lineage and graphic generosity.

Funny to think that all this started with Thom Yorke pottering about on his laptop, and Stanley witnessing the Boscastle deluge of 2004; that those recordings and torrential imagery would bloom and grow from the small beginnings of The Eraser – "Quick. Fun. Thom. Nigel. Me." as Stanley describes it – into a new band, a world tour and a room in Chalk Farm caked in images of AMOK’s Lost Angeles, sister catastrophe to The Eraser’s London Views, a room where branded bright young things in dungarees and trucker caps will help you with your purchases or talk affably about the gigs over the road, or how they came to be working in this greyscale womb... oh, yes, there are gigs. Three gigs by Atoms For Peace at the Roundhouse, kicking off tonight: Wednesday, 24th July.

"On Wednesday night, as on every Wednesday, the parents went to the movies. The children, masters and lords of the house, closed the doors and windows, and broke the light bulb burning in one of the lamps in the living room. A jet of golden light, as cool as water, began to flow from the broken bulb, and they let it run until it reached a depth of four hand spans. Then they turned off the current, got the boat out, and sailed at their pleasure around the islands of the house." – Light is Like Water, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Roundhouse was an engine shed, a beautiful utilitarian vessel, but still a workshop – which seems apt for tonight’s homecoming because, if AMOK was the sound of Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich crafting a hovercraft in their shed à la Christopher Cockerell, this evening Atoms For Peace beef things up several notches. As the band take the stage and launch into the polyrhythm skitter of 'Before Your Very Eyes...', I’m reminded of the A-Team bursting out of a barn in a jet-powered hearse. The songs are different beasts than on record – so different as to be reasonably considered new work, as AFP must surely be thought of as a cohesive longterm band, rather than the ‘supergroup’ or side-project they’ve been labeled since their inception last year. They may be fronted by that bloke from Radiohead and feature that sock chap on bass, but tonight they play a peerless show which speaks of many hours' intense rehearsal – musicians engaged in serious fun which, perhaps unusually, translates into great music.

Parts of 'Default' seem to have been possessed by the The Prodigy circa 1996. Dropped has been retooled into a bonkers banger – all Thunderbolt drums and lightning strobes which dwarf the wiry, oddly buff figure of Yorke (shadow boxing, b-boy stepping) and hawser armed Flea (pocket-ruler flexing like a man with stomach cramp.) The latter plays irradiant bass guitar throughout, anchoring many of the night’s more tempestuous incarnations, counterpoint to Yorke’s vocals which float like lightship beams above white horses – who knew 'Cymbal Rush' would work so well underpinned by thunder or that 'Harrowdown Hill' could take off atop a funk undercarriage? Tonight that song sounds like a lost highlight from the Blade Runner soundtrack, swathed in Vangelis synths and hailstone percussion from Godrich and percussionists Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco.

It towers and threatens, soars and glowers, and there’s a moment of stunned silence after the thrashed coda ends before the audience flare and scream their applause – which, like so much of the night, is deafening and euphoric.

'The Clock' is rebuilt as a desperate, viscous scuffle, agitated metallic beats and siren wails, but as that storm segues into the mesmeric layered locust cloud of 'Ingenue', Yorke sits at the piano to sing the delicate, fractured ballad and break the breathless three song salvo which opens the set. 'Stuck Together Pieces' ends with a chewy picked guitar figure which calls to mind Neil Young. 'Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses' is a swaggering workout which short-shifts several gears for a midsection spun together from Mulatu Astatke and Led Zeppelin, the beautifully unexpected music chiming and spiraling over the audience, a sea of hypnotised faces guttering in the stage light show.

As the crowds spill out to the Chalk Farm tube in the wake of the final, taut 'Black Swan', grinning, hoarse, ears ringing – some clutching their AMOK carriers filled with Drawing Room goodies – they pass the cubist zebra of The Enterprise facade and leave behind a band who seemed, taking their bow, beaming together on the Roundhouse stage in the gale ovation, delighted and moved by the crowd’s response.

A special night in Camden.

Everyone lit up.