This week, within four days, I’ve seen two bands live that very much rely on the visual as much as the audio. One is a fiercely political industrial project taking it’s first steps into the live arena, the other is a band dedicated to meshing old informational and propaganda videos with taut post-punk rhythms, and rising swiftly through the ranks. Weirdly enough, neither use “traditional” vocals to any great degree, either.
So, I thought it might be appropriate to have a look at both gigs in one go, and see how the different approaches worked.
A question to get us started: British Industrial music – is it still A Thing? I asked this question only last week on Facebook, to be hit back with a deluge of bands – many of which I’d not come across at all – from my friends and readers of amodelofcontrol.com, which has, to put it mildly, left me with a lot of listening to do in the coming weeks. A good thing I have a quiet week or two imminent, with a few spare evenings, eh?
Part of the reason this came up in the first place was actually thanks to Randolph & Mortimer. A new(ish) act from Sheffield, I didn’t hear about them first from that part of the world – it took some of the European industrial/goth press to tell me about them. And when I tracked R&M down for an interview nearly two years ago, they bemoaned the lack of UK press opportunities then, and the same problem remains now. So, expect some coverage of various of the bands I’ve had recommended once I’ve listened to them.
Bloc Projects, Sheffield
Anyway, I was in my old home city of Sheffield this past weekend, for a fleeting visit to see Randolph & Mortimer take their first steps into being a live band, as opposed to a studio project. This was an invite-only show, in a small art-space, where anything going wrong I guess might be more forgiving and honest feedback could be provided.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was intrigued to see how their political, fiery industrial music would be replicated live, and it was heartening to see a lot of hardware ready to go. Live the band is expanded to a three-piece, with a drummer, bassist and then lead-man Sam on electronics, (occasional) guitar and vocals – and then the two members of visual artists Meat Cassette in the corner of the room, controlling the back wall visuals.
The show itself was a feast of variety and striking visuals, too. So far R&M have shown themselves capable of taking on different styles with ease, and the set here took them all in.
Opening with The Ballad of the Iron Lady, a song that leaves no ambiguity in the politics of R&M (cut up samples make their point early), was a surprise but the nasty electro grind worked well, while the blistering industrial thrash of Sistema Dañado (The System Doesn’t Work) formed a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pairing with the equally short but groovier März Der Demokratie.
Ballad of the Iron Lady
Sistema Dañado (The System Doesn’t Work)
März Der Demokratie
Four Steps To Control
Existing, Not Living
So far, so interesting: but things got way more fascinating after that – and it was notable that the band relaxed considerably after this, as it was plainly clear that it was working out nicely. The sound the exceptionally clear, the visuals worked well, it was a drilled machine – but notably much of it was very live, often something that isn’t said about many industrial acts nowadays.
There were some eye-opening moments, too. Body is some of the best pure-EBM I’ve heard in a long time, while True Order features two bassists and has a gloriously ominous sound to it.
The two new songs aired throw even more concepts into the mix. Enjoy More is a glorious eighties-throwback in every way: the sound is wholly New Beat, while the visuals evoke the yuppie horror of the decade eerily. Four Steps To Control, on the other hand, is a brick through the window of that rich contentment – a morass of punk riffs and rage that suggests there is a whole well of South Yorkshire anger as yet untapped here.
Two songs that are, potentially I guess, best known to those who’ve heard R&M were saved to the end. Both have a sense of familiarity, too, as they both at least superficially, er, ‘borrow’ from Ministry. Just check the thundering rhythm of Existing, Not Living has that it blows out the back of the building, or the jagged, stabbing riffs of The Markets.
There was lots to recommend here. The broad concept of the band is clearly to bring a sense of political engagement to industrial music, in some respects akin to what 3TEETH have been doing so successfully from the US – but this is resolutely a British perspective here, with very much current political issues being considered in the sampling in particular. In cities like Sheffield, I’m not sure the festering wounds opened by Thatcher will ever heal, while the songs about monetary policy, debt and stock markets seem to be becoming more relevant by the hour, never mind the day. Add to that the brilliantly controlled visuals from Meat Cassette, and the result was a forty-minute, industrial sensory-overload that made me think of the Sheffield bands that came before, playing in similar venues in the industrial districts of the city – Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA to name but two. The torch has been passed on, and when they start to play live more, miss them at your peril.
Back in London after what turned out to be a long Saturday night (there was Corporation, and there was vodka. In immense quantities, just like old times!), I unexpectedly snagged a ticket for an in-store appearance at Rough Trade East by Public Service Broadcasting, a band who I’ve grown to love an awful lot ever since I first set ears on Spitfire a few years back.
Rough Trade East, E1
221: Tracks of the Month
The concept itself is perhaps a dry one. Two musicians decide to marry post-punk-influenced indie-rock with snippets of old Public Information Films – which would be rather boring in execution if the choices made with both music and sample sources weren’t so thrilling – and intriguingly live it was perhaps even more so.
Live, of course, they can bring those films to life, using the visuals from those broadcasts to match the samples they are using musically, and it allows the viewer/listener to almost completely immerse themselves in a world gone by. That’s the other thing, too: this is an entirely retro project, by the very nature of the films being used. Such information and propaganda films – as many of them are – long since passed into history, but what they do do is offer a window into a bygone age, and what’s fascinating about the PSB approach is the broad positivity of the whole endeavour, and maybe that’s where the link to the present comes in.
The post-war period was one of amazing optimism, where humanity made some extraordinary leaps forward, and nowhere was this made so clear than with the space race. Think of it this way – the first jet airliner was in use in 1948, and just twenty-one years later there was a man on the moon.
The Other Side
Live, the new album The Race For Space has some extraordinary, celebrationary moments of that time. Gagarin is one – the amazing, space-funk-rock party-anthem about the first man into space, while Go! powers forward where no man has gone before to celebrate those people behind the scenes that helped put those first men on the moon. Valentina uses gentle, ethereal female vocals to give the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, a voice, while the sheer drama of The Other Side, as those men in the control room nervously await Apollo 8 to re-establish radio contact, seemed to have the audience holding their breath too.
It wasn’t a show just about the new, though, as some of the older favourites were aired, too, including a scintillating Spitfire and, even better to close things off, the epic heights (pun intended) of Everest, closing with George Mallory’s famous (paraphrased) answer to the question of “Why do you want to climb Everest?”: “Because it’s there”.
That short answer sums up what PSB are getting at, in my mind. Celebrating the extraordinary advances by mankind in the twentieth century, with intelligent, fun music and clever manipulation of the titular films to provide a narrative that is fascinating, elegant and endlessly listenable. And, as it turns out, damned good fun live too.
There are more parallels than you might think between Randolph & Mortimer and Public Service Broadcasting, too. Not only are they clearly both masters of sampling – and use of such to make seamless songs that sound like the samples had the musical accompaniment all the long – they are also both keen, it seems, on keeping a coherent theme. And both are looking at tiny percentages of people, in some respects. R&M are railing against the 1%, if you will, those who have the money and are gaining even more while the rest struggle with austerity. While PSB are, on the new album anyway, celebrating those 536 people who’ve made it into space. That is 0.0000075% of the world’s population, by the way.
More importantly, though, both artists are doing something different to the norm. Adding an additional dimension to their sound, which in turn makes for a riveting live show in both cases.