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Three Songs No Flash

Radical Conversion: Snapped Ankles Live
Sean Kitching , March 7th, 2019 12:31

Sean Kitching is a late arrival when it comes to Snapped Ankles but he leaves with the zealotry of the recent convert

Live photograph by Alan Bolger

Coming late to a party can be a disorienting but otherwise edifying process. Sometimes it's no bad thing in itself. Sure, you can turn up out of step with the rest of the guests, sober with traces of the quotidian 9-5 still falling away whilst the rest of the assembled already have their disco faces on, causing you to do a double take, thinking, “Do I really/am I about to start looking like that?”

Or, as in this case, you can arrive, expecting to be in the midst of some atavistic pagan revelry, only to discover that one's previously ghillie-suited, timber thwacking hosts have largely abandoned their woodlands apparel and electrically-linked log percussion for sharp, estate-agent worthy suits and satirical, effects laden, for-sale signs. And so it is I arrive at my first Snapped Ankles show on the eve of the release of their 2nd album, Stunning Luxury.

Formed in 2011, the east London-based band have taken their time building a solid fan base and electrifying live show, beginning with DIY live improvisations utilising film-cut ups and proceeding via allegedly wild performances in warehouse spaces. Their sold-out show tonight at Oslo is packed tight with eager punters. A couple of ghillie-suited helpers thread themselves through the audience, armed with drums and a cymbal stand. Two new members, Russell and Parry, join long time Snapped Ankles nucleus, Austin and Chestnutt onstage to what seems to be a ‘Skirmish In The Suburbs’/‘Three Steps To A Development’ themed improvisation. Still retaining ghillie masks with their suits, keyboard player Chestnutt’s with additional antlers and sci-fi red light in between, the band have a great visual aesthetic going, both for the audience and no doubt, also themselves, permitting them a simple route for getting into character.

Being only ever referred to in the press by their surnames is another aspect of their schtick, although when such a thing works as well as this, gimmick seems an almost unkind word for a band who have a whole lot more going for them than appearances alone.

Making more creative use of estate agents signs than high street property purveyors could stumble upon in a billion years, segueing directly into ‘Tailpipe’ from the new album, Snapped Ankles’ current show may well be as fun-as-fuck while rhythmically irresistible but it maintains a satirical edge and doesn't lose any of its acerbic bite towards the subject of their spleen: the gentrification of neighbourhoods as driven by the greed of the property parasites they parody. The repetitive refrain of ‘Suck a, suck a, suck a tailpipe’, is completely unambiguous after all.

Comparisons to Throbbing Gristle, Can, The Fall and Devo are often made, although the Fall comparison really only rings true to certain, admittedly very Mark E Smith vocal inflections Austin makes on a few tracks. ‘Drink And Glide’, on the other hand, is very much a Devo moment, and what drew me to the band in the first place. Parry puts down his bass to take up additional keyboards and Austin’s guitar is turned up loud to emit a great, dirty fuzz sound. New drummer, Russell, is an ongoing revelation.

As has been noted on tQ before, electronics heavy acts with live drums need real skill in the human percussion department to pull it off with such propulsive finesse, and Russell excels in this role. As great as the new album is, these songs have way more depth and density of sound live. Dancing amongst crowd members becomes pretty riotous, with some people working up idiosyncratic somatic tics like they’re at an old school acid rave.

Video footage of bulldozers moving in starts up behind the band as Austin begins the "We’re moving out" refrain of ‘Pestisound’. ‘Letter from Hampi Mountain’ reveals the band to have impeccable literary tastes: “Who’d you get a letter from? Jorge Luis Borges… Thomas Ligotti… William T. Vollmann… join our karass.” “Some of you must know what a karass is?” Austin asks, before answering: “A karass is a group of people linked by a cosmic thread.” Stepping off the stage and into the audience, Austin offers a few audience members the opportunity to be linked now instead by a very long tape measure attached to one of the for-sale signs, whilst intoning: "I’m measuring a room... all the opportunities."

'Rechargeable' funnels an intense energy through a longer intro, some classic post-punk guitar mangling prefiguring the joyousness of the track unleashed, kicking hard and almost overflowing its own boundaries. Even the older songs sound much more powerful with this line up, with spacier synth flourishes on top of what was previously more bare, rattling percussion. We get a charged ‘I Want My Minutes Back’. I bet no one would ask for these minutes back, though they might ask for more of them.

As I make my way from the back of the venue to the final track, a totally krauted-up version of ‘Jonny Guitar Calling Gosta Berlin’ that sounds way more Neu! than it does on record, I see the two ghillie-suited helpers bashing away savagely at a single drum and cymbal on a stand by the merchandise stall. Finally, I reach across and shell out of my own pocket for a pink vinyl copy of the new record. When a seasoned/cynical music critic does that, instead of trying to blag it for free, there can be no greater recommendation for the music contained within. Snapped Ankles have just released a great album, but their live show is really something else - catch it while you can.