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LIVE REPORT: Mus_IIC Festival.01
David McKenna , October 23rd, 2014 11:02

David McKenna reports on sets from Minny Pops, Gazelle Twin and Wrangler at the one day London festival. Photo by Steve Malins

Just an iPhone's throw from Old Street station, the Red Gallery, formerly The Foundry, has for years been near closure, actually closed, and risked being replaced by a stalled 'art hotel' project. It's managed to hang on as an arts/performance space, and its refurbished basement room – which, if I'm not mistaken, was once used for manufacturing shoes - is now giving it a new lease of life as a venue. It's hard to argue with as a setting for a night of artfully deployed industrial clangour, especially with Factory Records revenants Minny Pops.

Headliners and curators are Wrangler – Cabaret Voltaire's Stephen Mallinder, Benge of The Maths and Tuung/The Lone Taxidermist's Phil Winter - and the connection is Benge's nearby Memetune studio, where Gazelle Twin put the finishing touches to Unflesh.

According to Mallinder, this first 'festival' "really came out of Wrangler collaborating with different people. We want to explore the connections that seem to be popping up anyway and start putting them into a live setting. The Red Gallery was a perfect place to start, with the intention of expanding the idea further. We want to bring in films, talks, different forms and ideas, so that it's a bit more than a one-off gig. The idea is to experiment, keep things open. We want it to be a catalyst to get people involved. But at the end of the day we like putting things on for the love of electronic music, played very loud. After all it is a Saturday night!"

The connections being made are about more than just a love of noise, though - Mus_IIC Festival.01 succeeds in setting up a dialogue with an electronically abrasive, but also conceptually charged, alienated, agitated and agitating and obliquely playful post-punk spirit. Remaining Minny Pops' member Wally van Middendorp -  appearing with new recruits and fresh material like 'Patty Hearst' (lyrics "Patty Monday, Patty Tuesday, Patty Wednesday...") - and Mallinder provide continuity, but Gazelle Twin (Elizabeth Bernholz), the artist here with the least 'previous' in those terms, is also truer in many ways to that legacy than any number of synth-wave facsimiles. The audience too is peppered with folk who could well be Cabaret Voltaire or Factory groupies but are nevertheless more than open to what Bernholz has to offer.

There's also something across all three of 'normal' physical attributes and qualities being de-natured – for starters, van Middendorp is just so strikingly tall, a fact which becomes particularly apparent once he's taken the stage following an opening gambit of standing blindfolded at audience level, shining a penlight torch at his own face and brandishing a sheet that reads "Fac 57 not Fuc 57". Watching the strange contortions I dismiss the idea, until I overhear someone else afterwards who's been struck by the same thought, that there's something Lynchian about him, as though the Twin Peaks giant has decided to try out the dwarf's dance moves. It's a great accompaniment to a sound that compulsive, danceable but brittle – there's no bass weight anchoring it (which marks out Wrangler and Gazelle Twin as "modern" electronic, post 90s) but plenty of that "certain disorder in the treble range" (a descriptive used in Colin Sharp's 'Who Killed Martin Hannett?' to describe one of the brilliant Factory producer's trademarks).

Wrangler's is the most relaxed, even blokey, of the three shows, sharp green graphics (including a projection on netting suspended in front of the band) doing the visual work, but even there Mallinder's voice is warped and mangled by effects, wraithlike.

Gazelle Twin's stage set-up is straightforward, just Bernholz and a hooded assistant some way behind, seemingly triggering some samples live, but musically the serrated kicks are delivered as per the album. This is really about Bernholz's presence on stage, the almost animalistic gestures and Bernholz's voice, expelled as breath-punctuation, as Nitrazepam-heavy or rapid-fire phrases, or looped while she crouches on the floor for the harrowing 'Child'. When she goes high and  fragile, as in the latter, it makes me think of Bjork – and I know, innovative female artist compared to Bjork, lazy, but it's to a specific song, 'Cocoon' on Vespertine. And partly because of the contrast – 'Cocoon' is all bliss, the pleasure of intimacy, being wrapped up in and with another, all that Unflesh presents the drastic opposite of.

The Unflesh look (blue hoodie, wig, tights tight over the face with only a mouth-hole, tracksuit, rolled-up white socks) has been much discussed already but it's still startlingly effective. Though inspired by PE kit – and I had those PE nightmares, pouring any reserves of ingenuity into ways to get out of the humiliating ordeal of sport at school - the hoodie is loaded with much more than that. Remember the infamous Blue Water hoodie ban, the hoodie as the ultimate in teenage passive aggression, the fear of anonymous teenage hordes, a public menace that's also a private retreat, aggressive precisely because it's a refusal to engage 'openly' in the marketplace, hiding in plain sight.

Who knows what's going on in there? The idea (re: burqas as well) that if only you can see someone's face you'll be able to tell what they're thinking. Which is ludicrous, surely, unless of course they give themselves away - "you will be found out" as Bernholz sings in almost implacably resigned fashion during 'Good Death'; there are psychic terrorists out there who, like Tarantino's Nazis, will shred the layers all the way to your abject core. Too many ways to be betrayed by others or betrayed by your own flesh, so attack (inwards/outwards) becomes the best form of defence: "I'll beat them all at their own game." Bernholz is open about the fact that she's drawing on her own experiences but on stage particularly, the anonymous 'concept' of the character works as a conduit for and attractor of those feelings rather than some kind of confessional. It could be any of us, our id given a paradoxical kind of form.

It's totally captivating but not necessarily 'Saturday night', so it's left to Wrangler to pick up the mood in the way that only a dose of clattering dystopian funk can, picking up deftly from where the Cab's mid-80s work left of – in fact the faithful get 'Crackdown' as an encore, just to complete the sense of shuttling back and forth between different time-zones. This is a concept well worth revisiting.