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LIVE REPORT: John Maus at the Electric Ballroom, London
Jamie Ryder , June 19th, 2018 13:45

From ‘Streetlight’ to ‘Cop Killer’, Maus plays a blinding, sinister set

Photo by Zulqarnain Swaleh

John Maus has moves. Not in the sense that we would identify a gifted dancer as ‘having moves’, but rather like a character in a fighting game has moves, or like a military has manoeuvres. He lurches energetically from side to side, hingeing at the waist, fringe flying. He raises his arms like a minister and bellows. He pitches earnest haymakers at the space in front of him, diffusing a mist of sweat like a real boxer. Clutching the hem of a beleaguered, baby blue oxford shirt, he headbangs with terrible intent, his face a rictus, the microphone held against his jugular like somebody threatening self-harm. After each song he crouches next to a console, facing away from the audience, and pours water on himself. Maus’ repertoire is a language of its own, one that few understand but many appreciate, revere even. There’s something about its quasi-predictability, about the way that you can know the steps, but not the sequence, that’s entirely hypnotic.

Maus brings his band and his 'hysterical body’ to a packed room and sermonises to a damp throng of devotees, a good many of whom rigorously duplicate his pogoing and outstretched arms. A Maus show in 2018 looks a lot like a Maus show in 2010 - the rooms are larger now, and an excellent live band brings a welcome improvisational element to the proceedings, but our principal remains aloof, somehow isolated in all his adulation, looking almost ashamed by the raptures rather than galvanised or encouraged. Such is the scale of the Mausian pyrotechnic that sceptics might wave away the whole spectacle as knowingly ironic, an exercise in melodrama, but there is no joke here. He is ardently, almost obscenely sincere. You can see it in his eyes onstage. When he punches himself in the head, repeatedly and ungently, people cheer and applaud. It makes me wince.

How does the whole thing sound? Vast. Twinkling synth daggers needle at the swaying rows, pulsating, wonderfully knotty basslines speak directly to the hips and Maus thunders above all, his voice an animal mass of blaring vowel sounds, swamped in apocalyptic, blown-out church-y reverb and delay, shedding layers like a comet entering the atmosphere. Square jawed, brutish, drenched, pouting out into the crowd, wide eyes fixated on the middle distance, Maus is a rabid preacher, ready to lead his congregation to battle.