LIVE REPORT: Gnod & Anthroprophh

Danny Riley attends a Buckfast-fuelled Rocket Recordings night in Bristol

Photo by Stewart Hardie

There’s a misconception that the Bristol music scene amounts to little more than beats and bass – a prolonged hangover from trip hop and dubstep; music for MDMA-bombing students and white people with dreadlocks. Yet for years there’s been a strong undertow of music that exists outside the parameters of club-orientated ‘bass music’, a raft of labels and promoters who aim to bring something more idiosyncratic to the city. Invada have been doing well with their OST releases, whilst upstarts Howling Owl are making waves with their roster of noisy rock and electronic acts. Perhaps most visibly, local psych label Rocket Recordings have made the leap from relative obscurity with a runaway success in Goat.

Tonight’s gig illustrates perfectly Bristol’s healthy appreciation for alternatives to rumbly dance music, with what was originally to be a mighty triple-header of some of Rocket Recordings’ finest bands: noisy kraut-droners Anthroprophh, sonic terrorists $hit & $hine and unfettered innerspace voyagers Gnod. Due to unfortunate technical difficulties, $hit & $hine have cancelled, but their absence is not to take the metaphorical shine of the event, a friendly BYOB (mainly Bring Your Own Buckfast) event in The Old Malt House studios. Organised by excellent promoters Cacophonous Sarcophagus, who have been putting together excellent bills of free electronics, demented psych and myriad hues of esoteric doom-drone in the crypt of Bristol’s St Thomas the Martyr church for some time now, the night had an atmosphere of friendly inclusion, with members of Thought Forms and Beak> in attendance, and no doubt helped along by the plentiful supplies of shop-bought booze.

First up are Anthroprophh, who set off the proceedings with an admirable lack of professionalism. Paul Allen swings his Stratocaster while the chest-shaking noise of Gareth Turner’s bass amp feeds back. These preliminary rumblings gradually morph into something more persuasive, as Allen switches between guitar, synth and organ, and drummer Jesse Webb lets fly with some rudimentary electronic bleeps from an unidentified metal box. I’m surprised how very Japanese it all feels, with Allen’s white-noise manglings seeming to come straight out of the school of Haino, Mainliner et al, while the three members of the band create a sound that was equal parts Japan-indebted noise and krautrock minimalism, with a weighty stoner metal low end.

The star of the show however, is undoubtedly the persistent drumming of Webb, whose irresistible Jaki Liebezeit-esque grooves precipitate much ritualistic head-nodding, helped along by Turner, who flits between battering a floor tom, thrumming bass guitar and bowing an electric standup bass. A breakneck rendition of biker-metal banger ‘Crow With Soar Throat’ from last year’s album Outside The Circle gets the most visceral reaction, with Allen’s spooky organ riffing making it come off like the soundtrack to some freaked-out Dennis Wheatley film adaptation. The set ends in a sternum-stiffening swell of burbling noise, and Anthroprophh exit leaving me feeling almost spent. Maximum gnarly achieved.

After a gratefully long interlude, Gnod take to a stage shrouded in a totemic projection, the Rorschach image from the cover of their new album Infinity Machines. Expecting a foray into the somewhat jazzier territories of their latest effort, or the all-electronic, industrial kosmische sounds of their other recent releases, it’s my surprise to see a stripped-down incarnation of the band with a rock-based setup of two guitars, bass and drums. Paddy Shine darkly intones some portentous punk poetry as the band creates a growling swell of drone, a shaven-headed Chris Haslam erratically letting forth squeals of squall from his guitar. It’s a remarkably controlled, gradual ascent, the trajectory from shimmering drone to raging climax coming close to the strategies employed by post rock bands. This ain’t Explosions In The Sky, however, this is Gnod, a band whose raison d’etre since day one has been disorientation, discombobulation and dirge-rock.

So we get incendiary cuts from Gnod’s heavier end, a return to the harsh repeater-riffage seen on albums like Chaudelande. Dispensing space-suggestive electronics for the altogether more primal sonic qualities of bass weight, sound saturation and seemingly endless repetition, the band tear through each number with an infectious ferocity. For the first time ever at an experimental music gig, I witness a moshpit, as hirsute Buckfast-quaffing gentlemen enter the fray. With sonic reference points to The Fall, Butthole Surfers, Melvins, PiL and Hawkwind, this is Gnod as heavy and immediate as I’ve ever seen them, with a skronk-riddled airing of ‘Breaking The Hex’ proving a personal highlight. Gnod on a good day are a band of infinite heft. Bludgeoning, blistering and boozy, tonight’s gig is an exhausting testament to the immersive powers of loud psychedelia.

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