The XX – XX

•November 22, 2009 • 1 Comment

Originally published in The Quietus , August 2009 – www.thequietus.com

Despite the egregious youth of its creators, the principal impression of this record is neither its melancholy nor its idealism, but the perfection of its musical judgement. Though critically-feted South London four-piece The XX have released just two singles and performed only a handful of shows, they’ve already developed a trademark langourous understatement, professing to record only what they can reproduce live. This album successfully brokers their style into an economically luxurious, musically complex, self-titled world, more than capable of laying any remotely susceptible human flat out, dreaming. There’s so much space in the stereo picture, you see; it follows that you’ll want to wander.

The album accomplishes a great deal with relatively few tools: the crystalline keyboards of Baria Qureshi; the Cooderish, Cure-ish, spare guitar of Romy Madley Croft; and the modal bass of Oliver Sim. Jamie Smith, the album’s producer-programmer, is principally responsible for its deceptively simple air, but its arrangements are intricately designed, taking in the click and bounce of R&B — a reverential cover of Aaliyah’s ‘Hot Like Fire’ is a live staple — and the gigantic boom and crunch of dubstep.

It’s not a perfect record, quite; ‘VCR’ in particular sounds comparatively unfinished, especially after the sinister, dry sweetness of the first track, ‘Intro’. There are some small structural issues too: on such an otherworldly album, the crisply perky ‘Basic Space’ and ‘Crystalised’ suffer somewhat from punctuating the mood (though this is merely a problem of context — released as singles, the strength of each is clear). The record seems to be built around a carefully constructed core, the killer one-two-three-four punch of ‘Islands’, ‘Heart Skips A Beat’, ‘Fantasy’ and ‘Shelter’. Each of these tracks sees a radical shift in perspective on a similar — perhaps a single — love story. One moment, great spaces are conjectured; the next, tones spill, break, and pool alongside the vocals. Miniscule tonal refractions are examined at length. These tracks tilt into one another; motifs trickle over edges, an outro becomes a chorus. Huge bass rumbles are still decaying bars later. Time travels backwards — “see you August, see you June” — and then fractures, light years away, before the heartbreaking refrain of ‘Shelter’ returns the attention to more human concerns and you realise how far away from being human you were, for a while. It’s impressively de-realising.

“I’ll see you August, see you June. I want fantasy. It’s deep in the middle of me.” Fantasy is deep in this record, in this sound: in the vocal unison (never harmony; they often sing as though unaware of one another) of childhood friends Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. Fantastical, the Coco-Rosie genderlessness of their dreamworlds — no him or her, only you you you. Most of all, the body fantastical, their central lyrical theme. Several tracks see the non-couple set up a dialectic, Sim describing the body’s external surfaces, Madley Croft its internal spaces, the fears they provoke, the succour they provide. “I can’t give it up to someone else’s touch”, coos Madley Croft in ‘Infinity’. “Give it up, give it up,” cajoles Sim (later boasting sadly, “I can give it up on the first date”, in the post-coital comedown of ‘Stars’.) The chorus of ‘Basic Space’ sees Sim sensually describing hot wax pouring over skin, before Madley Croft reveals that the wax seals in the body, insulates the track’s vital “basic space, open air”. A fascination with the space inside, where everything really happens, is this band’s biggest strength.

The XX

•August 7, 2009 • 1 Comment

Originally published in Plan B magazine, April 2009 – http://www.planbmag.com/shop

the-xx

I think I’m going to go about this backwards, bare bones first, meat after, then skin, like it feels, like it works, backwards. You’ll see, have seen, the XX on tour with Micachu, will be awaiting their album – their album, as yet unnamed, they finished a matter of days ago, now. Already, you’ll know, might love, their unreleased single, ‘Crystallised’, sweet, dark and dusty, one-note like a chocolate drop. You’ll have read, maybe blogged even, how it recalls Hercules and Love Affair, Coco Rosie and Tracy And The Plastics – all are namechecked as influences in the scantlings available to me, now, beforehand. The photos of them that I can’t find, their faces I can’t picture, you’ll know all that. It’s all folded in, the way it feels by the time you know.

For a band so clearly about to break, the XX are pretty much still invisible, still unformed, hard to pin an intention to, tough to locate with words alone, Schrodinger’s band. I spent a day or so taking readings, grokking on their single, the demos on their myspace. I thought of hopping on a train to London and spending a couple of hours with them. In the end, waylaid by illness and impossibility, I stayed in bed, and I spoke to them one by one, awkwardly handing the phone around, sweet to make up for it, stepping out of their Saturday afternoon cafe shade into fickle March sunshine and street noise.

Amazing, amazing,” singsongs Ollie, singer/bassist, like he knows it’s going to be. “I’m so excited. We’ve been basically in the studio for four months and now we’re come out and are starting to do a few interviews, photos…”

Stylist?

Um, no. No stylist. Wear black, it’s not hard.”

Watch things on VCRs, drink tea and talk about making love. I think we’re superstars. And you, you just know, you just do. – VCR

In music lessons the teacher would just send us off into our own little room, because we were the ones who were actually interested in music, instead of playing the same thing over and over on a keyboard,” says programmer/producerJamie. “We were all at school together.”

We learned to talk together, let along sing together,” says Ollie of singer/guitarist Romy. “We went to school together, learned music together – she’s my sister. We’ve known each other since we were two.”

She’s not his sister. They don’t sing like brother and sister. They sing like they’re sad they’re not in love; they sing in unison, perfectly, facing away, dreaming in opposite directions. There’s romance, of a kind, in unison, in the shared attack, sustain, and decay.

I mean, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Ollie,” says Romy. “He’s my best friend. But the songs, they mean different things to each of us, I think. Even though there’s generally a vocal duet happening, we’re never singing to each other about anything. I like that – that we each have our mind on someone else completely. ”

Like there’s more people in the song than should fit.

Amazing,” she says, and I can’t help laughing.

You can’t resist.. and kiss and kiss and kiss and kiss and, kiss. – ‘Hot Like Fire’, Amerie cover

They’re natural successors to the Knife, The XX. Populist, humid and sinister, dreamy and clever at the same time, oddly uncomfortable, despite the familiarity of their idioms. What they have that the titanic Knife don’t have is an axiomatic understatement.

We’ve always said from the beginning that everything we record, we want to be able to play live,” says Romy. “So when we’re recording there are no overdubs. No extra bits.”

We never really think about it in terms of recording,” explains Jamie. “We always just use what we have, we don’t use loops, we always want to do stuff in real time.”

I once read an interview with the Sugababes that really impressed me,” Romy elucidates. “Someone asked them a question about whether they wrote their own songs, and they said that each of them wrote their own verses, each of them wrote what each of them would sing. We sort of made that into a principle.”

Is that true?

Well.. no. Later on we met someone who wrote all the Sugababes songs. But I still like the idea. It’s more of a romantic image I think about when I’m writing.”

Stories don’t have to be true to be important. They just have to be perfect, so. So that’s the real secret of romance – that it doesn’t have to be real.

Ladyfest

•June 21, 2009 • 1 Comment

Originally published in Plan B magazine, September 2008 – www.planbmag.com/shop

The feature as published also included wonderful pieces by Lauren Strain, Jesse Darlin’ and Beth Capper, and the timeline at the foot of this piece was a collaboration with Lauren Strain.

LADYFEST: THE POP-UP BOOK

ldf

Writing any kind of historiography has a homogenising effect. Difference and deviation in flow become invisible, all compasses point north; disparate and diverse voices move from clamour to unison. Hierarchies impose themselves ruthlessly over time: certain viewpoints are foregrounded and made representative, others lost. A flattening takes place, a loss of contour.

Ladyfest is the product of the work, thought, activism, communication, resistance and organisation of thousands of women (and many men and transpeople) over the last 8 years. Its lineage stretches back through Riot Grrl into cutie, queercore, punk, gay liberation, second-wave feminism, and the birth of identity politics. Its impact extends out into academic discourse, popular artefact, cultural history, political activism, applied philosophy and ethics. Ladyfest covers a stunningly diverse range of expression from graffiti, zines, parenting, djing, cooking, cross-stitch, comic art, fiction, journaling, self-defence, filmmaking, design and promotion, to the more traditional performative norm of getting up on stage and making a racket (or a drone), but a list of attributes cannot convey its real impact. It’s tempting to put together an anecdotal history, a selection of subjectivities, some indication of the force Ladyfests have been in the lives of the people who organise, perform and participate in them.

I caught the tampon L7 threw at Reading,” deadpans Mira Manga, once a leading light of Teen-C with her band Disco Pistol, now ebullient frontwoman of all-grrl pop warriors the Duloks, and veteran of a multitude of Ladyfest appearances. “I held it aloft and behold: I harnessed the power of ROCK.”

OK. You’re right. It’s not gonna work.

Sorry,” she sympathises. “I’m not really a riot grrl anyway. I’m more of a libertarian.”

As Ms. Manga implies, Ladyfest’s immediate roots lie in the riot grrl movement of the early 90’s. Originating in the Portland/Olympia nexus and Washington DC, mirrored in the UK, riot grrl (music version) first pitched itself against the sexism of the hardcore scene and the exclusion of women from DIY culture, using the insurrectionary language and anarcho-punk methodology of the queercore uprising that had preceded it by half a decade. Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, Voodoo Queens, Pussycat Trash – inherent in these names is the claim laid to their stage. The movement’s broader sense of complaint, however, better expressed in the incredible variety of self-published writing that marked its early years, struck at the heart of the failings of second-wave feminism – the increasing alienation young women felt from the imperatives of both capital politics and academia, where second-wave feminism had pitched its struggles; instead riot grrl writing focused on popular culture and daily experience, on the quotidian jigsaw of the picture of oppression. It was to seek, and in Ladyfest it found, a language and methodology of its own, a practical means of empowering and involving women in the production of their own popular culture; one that has of late come to stand not only for feminism in music in the popular imagination, but also as a model of DIY self-organisation transportable across geographical and philosophical boundaries. The Ladyfest strain is viral for sure. Since 2000, more than 50 Ladyfests have been held all over the US, the UK, and in Australia, Canada, Scandinavia and Europe; countries as far afield as Singapore have adopted the model and made it their own. Each Ladyfest is autonomous, marshalling the idiosyncratic resources of a local community with one goal: the empowerment of women.

The first Ladyfest was held in Olympia in August 2000. Among its instigators were Allison Wolfe and Molly Neuman of Bratmobile, Tobi Vail of Bikini Kill, Sarah Dougher and Corin Tucker of Cadallaca, Cat Power and Neko Case. “I think it was a great politicized event put on by many strong talented women. We had access to a lot of resources and talent at the time,” understates Allison Wolfe. Surely she can see the impact Ladyfest has had? “Oh, totally,” she laughs. “I think it can stand as an alternative to the standard model of music events, and hopefully it has influenced promoters, clubs, participants and artists to see how it can be done differently. It’s one of many forms of feminist activity, and I believe it’s truly important for the psychic and creative survival of women.”

I was in a band called the Riff Randells at the time – we had a boy singer, so we weren’t allowed to play the festival,” recalls Mar Sellars of the Duloks. “The Gossip hosted a pre-festival house show and we played there instead, with Gene Defcon, the Gossip, Trail of Dead, and the Frumpies. And that was the craziest show I’ve ever played.”

The inaugural Ladyfest would maintain an avowedly grrl-positive stance and a focus on empowering women in music (in the wake of the Woodstock rapes the year before, the sexualpolitik of the music industry was once again the subject of fervent debate). What riot grrl conventions, Queeruption and the Grrlstyle Revolution had instigated, Ladyfest now inherited, though debates about separatism and incest survival had been replaced with workshops on Making It In The Music Business and panels on sex work. The micropolitical pragmatism and sex-positivism of third-wave feminism had clearly had an impact, and the ideologies of Ladyfest were a development on prior models. Trans inclusion – the notion that ‘lady’ as a category also includes female-identified gender variant people – was one development that made itself felt immediately; Freddie Fagula, transgendered partner of Beth Ditto, gave a talk on body fascism to enormous acclaim. Ladyfest had received the queering of feminist space from its long association with both queercore and lesbian feminism.

Ladyfest, I think, has always come from not just a feminist perspective but a queer one too,” argues Ros Murray of Electrelane and Lesbo Pig. “It’s really important. I think that when you put feminism and DIY politics together, it’s just natural that queer politics should be involved. Personally, I don’t separate feminist politics from queer politics because I see feminism as fighting clear gender boundaries, which is a very queer idea.”

Ladyfest also inherited riot grrl’s difficulty with race politics. The assumption that cultural differences would be resolved by uniting under the term ‘riot grrl’ was flawed for many. As Lauren Jade Martin had written in her 1997 zine You might as well live: ‘Some of you say “we’re out to kill white boy mentality”, but have you examined your own mentality? Your white, upper-middle glass girl mentality? What would you say if I said I wanted to kill that mentality too?’

This critique, never resolved by riot grrl, remains a thorny issue for Ladyfest. The limitations placed on it by the white, middle class roots of riot grrl are, to some extent, mitigated by the localness of each event; Ladyfest London, for example, chose immigration and asylum as its theme last year as a direct challenge to the whiteness of past events. Mina Gichinga of the Duloks, though, believes it’s the indie-music bias of many Ladyfests that is most limiting.

I think there’s a need for alternative genres to be introduced to Ladyfest- say female grime for example,” she says. “There are talented girls making music that’s not centrally punk or indie, so why not show that off too? Variation is important if Ladyfest is to grow.”

For Anat Ben-David of Chicks on Speed, who has performed at Ladyfests as a solo artist, the issue is less inclusivity than a lack of ambition. The not-for-profit, anarcho-feminist roots of Ladyfest can leave some women wondering why they’re being asked to play another free show.

There’s this thing of wanting artists to play for free, just because it’s for women. Come on – this is our job! Ladyfest, more than any other festival, should be making sure women artists are getting paid. Clearly women’s liberation hasn’t gone so far as to affect how women in the art world and music business treat and and respect themselves and each other,” she argues. “I respect the organisers, but it needs to go further and happen big time. Get some support, be strong with it, pay all the artists, not just the head liners.”

Though playing a Ladyfest may not now be a commercially astute decision in the way it was for the Gossip in 2000 (the band was booked for a UK Ladyfest tour the following year, breaking them in to the British market), there remains a certain transformative power that immersion in subversive, often directly transgressive, action and culture can bring about.

One of the things that for me is important is that it supports the local scene, and stays true to the DIY roots of Ladyfest. It´s not about shipping over a bunch of riot grrl bands from Olympia,” says Ros Murray. “It’s about encouraging new local bands and giving people an opportunity to play that might not normally get to in the male dominated music scene. it feels really great to be part of a process that aims to inspire other people to be creative, rather than to just sit back and watch. That was really important for Electrelane.”

If Ladyfest has one concept, it’s that of providing an “in” for females in an industry that’s so male dominated the smell of testosterone is tangible,” agrees Mira Manga. “Don’t forget, in the 90s women were facing the new laddism, the Blur vs. Oasis pissing contest – and I think that hasn’t really gone away.”

So many Ladyfests have spawned bonds and networks that continue on with exciting feminist activities, like the First Ladies DJ Collective and the District of Ladies visual arts collective that formed out of the Washington DC Ladyfest,” points out Allison Wolfe. “I believe the antiwar activist group Pink Bloque formed from connections made at Ladyfest Chicago. Unskinny Bop came out of Ladyfest London. And The Here gallery and DIY art/craft store, the Local Kid label, and the Café Kino vegan café, all came out of Ladyfest Bristol. It’s amazing – these communities are left with a bigger set of possibilities after Ladyfest.“

For Kieron Gillen, writer of the Phonogram series of graphic novels, the proper term for such a literal empowerment is ‘magic’. The first Phonogram book is set at a Ladyfest, and documents, to some extent, both Gillen’s own doubts about the event, and their eventual resolution.

The idea of magic in Phonogram is always about the metaphoric effect of music on people,” he explains. “At Ladyfest Bristol, I realised that so much of my life I’ve been inspired by the music the festival celebrated… but it hadn’t affected my behaviour one fucking jot. I really beat myself up over it, which I channelled into the book by having the lead character beaten up by a goddess. The experience did alter my behaviour – I think I was a better person walking out of the venue than when I walked in, and if that isn’t magic, I dunno what is.”

UK LADYFEST TIMELINE

1986 – 1989

87: Ablaze! Mag is founded by Karen Ablaze (still kicking ass in Leeds). The girls involved form bands; the bands spawn more bands, and the ‘zine spawns more ‘zines.

1990 – 1992

’90: Erica Smith conjures up Girlfrenzy magazine while wandering around the local shop. It provides a platform for female comic artists and adopts a more informal, fun attitude than more traditional feminist magazines. First published in ’91, it’s still going today.

91: Brightonian refuseniks Huggy Bear form; play shows, change world.

92: the Slampt Underground Organisation record label is founded in Newcastle by Rachel Holborow and Pete Dale, soon becomes famous for nurturing Kenickie’s first output among its roster of defiantly idiosyncratic wrong-pop.

1993 – 1994

93: Cazz Blase initiates the long reign of the Riot Grrrl fanzine (culminating in 1999). The London edition goes viral, inspiring Leeds and Bradford issues shortly afterwards. Elsewhere, Bratmobile bounce around the country to excitement and acclaim, and Huggy Bear embark upon a tour with American contemporaries, Bikini Kill, accompanied by filmmaker Lucy Thane, later to produce It changed my life: Bikini Kill in the UK, her documentary of the experience. Huggies also appear on the Word, riot live on TV, and are rewarded with a stunningly hostile press reaction. The year’s finale comes with the Grrrlstyle Revolution at London’s ICA just before Christmas.

94: Yay for the Piao! Festival, held at the Emerald Centre, Hammersmith, London and featuring performances from the likes of Heavenly, Avocado Baby, Linus and Pussycat Trash. This was the brainchild of those behind Squab, an international distribution service for cassettes ‘n’ fanzines that had blinked into life around the same time as Slampt, but acquired the Piao name in tandem with the festival. Boo for Huggy Bear’s last gig, tho’, early the same year.

1995 – 1996

96: Mathew Fletcher of Talulah Gosh (whose older sister, Amelia, was a core member also of Heavenly, Marine Research and Tender Trap) defines the term ‘riot grrrl’ for the Oxford English Dictionary. Later that year, he commits suicide.

1997 – 1999

97: The redoubtable Anna Moulson founds independent promotions company Melting Vinyl and the Brighton Crawl, an early grrl-positive festival, in Brighton; releases ramalama commemorative Crawl 7-in featuring Gilded Lil, Mellow and Bette Davis and the Balconettes.

98: The first annual Queeruption event, at the 121 Centre, Brixton, a self-organised, non-profit DIY event for radical queers to make, do, be, learn, organise, resist, and generally rule. The ethos and praxis of Queeruption would later form the skeleton of the nascent Ladyfest movement in the US, just as riot grrl zines had followed in the wake of 80’s queercore punk zines.

’99: Erica Smith publishes the Girlfrenzy Millennial, containing comic strips, interviews, fiction and photostories, including work by Charlotte Cooper and Fawn Gehweiler.

2000 – 2001

’01: In the wake of the first Ladyfest, held in Olympia, Washington in 2000, a 2001 UK Ladyfest tour is organised, featuring spiky girlpop greats the Lollies alongside Bangs, Sarah Dougher and the Gossip (playing their first UK shows); in the same year, the UK holds its first Ladyfest in Glasgow, featuring Bis, Bratmobile, and Katastrophe Wife, as well as workshops in DJing and self-defence for women.

2002 – 2003

’02: In the ridiculously sultry summer of 2002, Ladyfest London takes up the mantle, headlining Chicks on Speed, Electrelane, Holly Golightly, and Katastrophe Wife, alongside digital hardcore darlings Lolita Storm, lo-fi romantic Mirah, riot grrl stalwarts Linus, twee monsters the Blue Minkies, and Gina Birch of the Raincoats. Workshops include Men in Feminism, songwriting, dance, cross-stitch and self-publishing. Unskinny Bop, a club night inspired by Beth Ditto’s onstage striptease at Ladyfest Glasgow, makes its first appearance here. Its aims:to celebrate the achievements of fat people in pop, from Missy to Meatloaf, and to create a safe space for fat people to shake that badonkadonk free from judgement and inhibition. Joy ensues.

’03: 2003 sees, alongside Ladyfests in Exeter, Bristol, and Manchester, a proliferation of Ladyfest-associated or inspired events, with Unskinny Bop and the polysexual kaos of Club Motherfucker going monthly in London, Homocrime setting up its first queercore event, spearheaded by the Gossip, and the Local Kid label and the Here shop pushing the envelope in Bristol. In Brighton, the Punktrap night opens to all genders and sexualities, ages and body types, with a door policy favouring drag and nerd, while the Cowley Club provides a libertarian space for political organising and social events, as well as a library and cafe. It provides a home for local campaigning organisations in their dozens, later becoming a venue for local queer and grrl bands and club nights, including the Flesh Machine, Husbands, Peepholes and Miss Pain.

2004 – 2005

’04: Ladyfests are held in Birmingham, Dublin and Exeter, while the growth of grrl- and queer-positive collectives and events continues with the founding of Manchester’s Kaffequeeria, and Cardiff’s Peppermint Patti collective.

05: Brighton’s first Ladyfest proper is held in 2005, featuring performances from Electrelane, Afrirampo, the Polly Shang Kuan Band, Spider and the Webs and Partyline, a Riot Grrl film showing and panel featuring Jon Slade, Tobi Vail and Allison Wolfe, and a lesbian riot (unplanned) on the final night.

2006 – 2007

06: Having showcased, among others, Rhythm King and her Friends, Lesbo Pig, Husbands, Blood Red Shoes, the Corey O’s, Drunk Granny, Jean Genet, Sleeping States and Winston Echo, Homocrime holds its final event – Nomocrime – in 2006. The Homocrime Singles club and label continues. Ladyfests Bournemouth, Cardiff, and Newcastle bring the noise.

07: Ladyfest spreads to Leicester, Cambridge, Leeds and Nottingham, and Cardiff responds with its own F.A.G. club – cake, raffle and riot for queers of all genders and sexualities. In Manchester, the Female Trouble women’s collective begins its roster of fundraisers, shows and club nights, and Bristol’s Cafe Kino, providing a radical space for DIY political activism (and amazing food), opens.

UK LADYFEST TIMELINE

1986 – 1989

87: Ablaze! Mag is founded by Karen Ablaze (still kicking ass in Leeds). The girls involved form bands; the bands spawn more bands, and the ‘zine spawns more ‘zines.

1990 – 1992

’90: Erica Smith conjures up Girlfrenzy magazine while wandering around the local shop. It provides a platform for female comic artists and adopts a more informal, fun attitude than more traditional feminist magazines. First published in ’91, it’s still going today.

91: Brightonian refuseniks Huggy Bear form; play shows, change world.

92: the Slampt Underground Organisation record label is founded in Newcastle by Rachel Holborow and Pete Dale, soon becomes famous for nurturing Kenickie’s first output among its roster of defiantly idiosyncratic wrong-pop.

1993 – 1994

93: Cazz Blase initiates the long reign of the Riot Grrrl fanzine (culminating in 1999). The London edition goes viral, inspiring Leeds and Bradford issues shortly afterwards. Elsewhere, Bratmobile bounce around the country to excitement and acclaim, and Huggy Bear embark upon a tour with American contemporaries, Bikini Kill, accompanied by filmmaker Lucy Thane, later to produce It changed my life: Bikini Kill in the UK, her documentary of the experience. Huggies also appear on the Word, riot live on TV, and are rewarded with a stunningly hostile press reaction. The year’s finale comes with the Grrrlstyle Revolution at London’s ICA just before Christmas.

94: Yay for the Piao! Festival, held at the Emerald Centre, Hammersmith, London and featuring performances from the likes of Heavenly, Avocado Baby, Linus and Pussycat Trash. This was the brainchild of those behind Squab, an international distribution service for cassettes ‘n’ fanzines that had blinked into life around the same time as Slampt, but acquired the Piao name in tandem with the festival. Boo for Huggy Bear’s last gig, tho’, early the same year.

1995 – 1996

96: Mathew Fletcher of Talulah Gosh (whose older sister, Amelia, was a core member also of Heavenly, Marine Research and Tender Trap) defines the term ‘riot grrrl’ for the Oxford English Dictionary. Later that year, he commits suicide.

1997 – 1999

97: The redoubtable Anna Moulson founds independent promotions company Melting Vinyl and the Brighton Crawl, an early grrl-positive festival, in Brighton; releases ramalama commemorative Crawl 7-in featuring Gilded Lil, Mellow and Bette Davis and the Balconettes.

98: The first annual Queeruption event, at the 121 Centre, Brixton, a self-organised, non-profit DIY event for radical queers to make, do, be, learn, organise, resist, and generally rule. The ethos and praxis of Queeruption would later form the skeleton of the nascent Ladyfest movement in the US, just as riot grrl zines had followed in the wake of 80’s queercore punk zines.

’99: Erica Smith publishes the Girlfrenzy Millennial, containing comic strips, interviews, fiction and photostories, including work by Charlotte Cooper and Fawn Gehweiler.

2000 – 2001

’01: In the wake of the first Ladyfest, held in Olympia, Washington in 2000, a 2001 UK Ladyfest tour is organised, featuring spiky girlpop greats the Lollies alongside Bangs, Sarah Dougher and the Gossip (playing their first UK shows); in the same year, the UK holds its first Ladyfest in Glasgow, featuring Bis, Bratmobile, and Katastrophe Wife, as well as workshops in DJing and self-defence for women.

2002 – 2003

’02: In the ridiculously sultry summer of 2002, Ladyfest London takes up the mantle, headlining Chicks on Speed, Electrelane, Holly Golightly, and Katastrophe Wife, alongside digital hardcore darlings Lolita Storm, lo-fi romantic Mirah, riot grrl stalwarts Linus, twee monsters the Blue Minkies, and Gina Birch of the Raincoats. Workshops include Men in Feminism, songwriting, dance, cross-stitch and self-publishing. Unskinny Bop, a club night inspired by Beth Ditto’s onstage striptease at Ladyfest Glasgow, makes its first appearance here. Its aims:to celebrate the achievements of fat people in pop, from Missy to Meatloaf, and to create a safe space for fat people to shake that badonkadonk free from judgement and inhibition. Joy ensues.

’03: 2003 sees, alongside Ladyfests in Exeter, Bristol, and Manchester, a proliferation of Ladyfest-associated or inspired events, with Unskinny Bop and the polysexual kaos of Club Motherfucker going monthly in London, Homocrime setting up its first queercore event, spearheaded by the Gossip, and the Local Kid label and the Here shop pushing the envelope in Bristol. In Brighton, the Punktrap night opens to all genders and sexualities, ages and body types, with a door policy favouring drag and nerd, while the Cowley Club provides a libertarian space for political organising and social events, as well as a library and cafe. It provides a home for local campaigning organisations in their dozens, later becoming a venue for local queer and grrl bands and club nights, including the Flesh Machine, Husbands, Peepholes and Miss Pain.

2004 – 2005

’04: Ladyfests are held in Birmingham, Dublin and Exeter, while the growth of grrl- and queer-positive collectives and events continues with the founding of Manchester’s Kaffequeeria, and Cardiff’s Peppermint Patti collective.

05: Brighton’s first Ladyfest proper is held in 2005, featuring performances from Electrelane, Afrirampo, the Polly Shang Kuan Band, Spider and the Webs and Partyline, a Riot Grrl film showing and panel featuring Jon Slade, Tobi Vail and Allison Wolfe, and a lesbian riot (unplanned) on the final night.

2006 – 2007

06: Having showcased, among others, Rhythm King and her Friends, Lesbo Pig, Husbands, Blood Red Shoes, the Corey O’s, Drunk Granny, Jean Genet, Sleeping States and Winston Echo, Homocrime holds its final event – Nomocrime – in 2006. The Homocrime Singles club and label continues. Ladyfests Bournemouth, Cardiff, and Newcastle bring the noise.

07: Ladyfest spreads to Leicester, Cambridge, Leeds and Nottingham, and Cardiff responds with its own F.A.G. club – cake, raffle and riot for queers of all genders and sexualities. In Manchester, the Female Trouble women’s collective begins its roster of fundraisers, shows and club nights, and Bristol’s Cafe Kino, providing a radical space for DIY political activism (and amazing food), opens.

Rolo Tomassi

•June 21, 2009 • 1 Comment

Originally published in Plan B magazine, March 2008 – www.planbmag.com/shop

rolo tomassi

Rolo Tomassi, Camden Underworld, 03/02/08

“Faggots,” opines a moron.

It’s possible that he intended to say “your precocious Henry Cowisms are giving me the fear,” but he’s drunk, so “faggots” it is. Later, there will also be “bitch, you suck” and “get your tits out”. It’s a Sunday afternoon, kid. You eat your roast beef with that mouth? A good portion of this young crowd shares his disdain; emo jailbait coats the rear wall. It’s the pauses most seem to object to – the moments of gathered breath, the lengthy keyboard breaks between, oh yeah, movements, in this murderously-delivered set. But all along and beside the stage, thrilled and beaming and stamping and screaming, are other kids; bitches and faggots, perhaps, with their cameras set to FOREVER.


Though Rolo Tomassi have so far delivered precisely one bruising and beautiful mini-album for Holy Roar, this ambitious performance (punctuated only twice, by polite thanks and shy offers of merch) gathers those songs, and several newer, into a thunderous and complex tale. This one hour, this grimy afternoon, makes meat of their many swift and brutal changes of pace, mood and mode; of punk chromatics so brisk and heady it’s hard to notice how deeply-felt they are, until they veer one last time and suddenly, all compasses point to a previously-imperceptible magnetic north; of ensemble riffs and roaring, and of their separation, their subsiding into delicacy and tenderness. It’s all the same, utterly absorbing story.

It’s hard to imagine where these 5 teenagers can have acquired either their conspicuous virtuosity or their impressive range. Their references, sonic, literary and filmic, tear eclecticism a new rear window.  In  ‘C Is For Calculus’ alone, they manage to conjure the prog/spacerock theatrics of Yes and Hawkwind, the romp and rigour of Dillinger or Converge, and the spiralling fusion of Return to Forever, in a manner it took Mike Patton 15 years to attempt. Though the sound this afternoon is doing them few favours, Edward’s drums manage nevertheless to preside triumphantly over a stage split dialectically between Joe and Joseph’s guitar/bass unison and the call and response vocals of Eva and James. As the set progresses, though, as ‘Seagull’ offers its bleak, sinister vision and ‘Digital History’ presents its bouquet of knives, I begin to notice how carefully the various voices intertwine, how the psychedelia of James’ keyboards signals increasingly complex sets of possibilities. Instruments are disguising themselves before my eyes: guitars cozen as keyboards, voices as drums, songs sew themselves to one another, riffs shred away, trade parts, and reform voluptuously. On the heels of new single ‘Beat Rotter’, ‘Film Noir”s triple-tapped, sniper-fire introduction is a shock to the chest.  ‘Cirque Du Funk’ shakes a single, circling riff down to its basest properties, surrounding it with shifting drums that attack and defend its sinous curves by turns, as Eva abandons her mic to career across the stage, ecstatically stamping out every change in pattern. Imagine bumper cars, choreographed by Busby Berkeley. Imagine bitches and faggots, tits out and roaring, ruling heaven, always.

Why I love: outros

•June 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Originally published in Plan B magazine, October 2007  – www.planbag.com/shop

Why I love: outros.

Sometimes our own time is the very best time to live in. Some things engender faith in our cultural instincts. Some pop forms are high art, and the outro is one of them.

The outro is pop’s nod to the classical coda – a final passage that draws from the forms and themes of a long piece to conclude it. Codas, like most classical forms, grew in complexity over time until they became these big-deal self-referential musical vessels, aching for the plunder of the modern and the bold. Outros are our pirate badge of honour, a hook at the wrist. Lots of songs pare down or shine up their component parts for a big finish – think ‘Joyful Girl’, or ‘This Charming Man’but these are not outros. The true outro is a distinct new passage, scrambling for your attention, compulsively answering the song’s own questions, an end not ready yet to end.

It’s tempting to think of the outro song as a perpetual crescendo, and outros are, mostly, a joyful form, but they can also bring a reckoning, a thematic conclusion of frightening intensity. ‘Drive’, by Throwing Muses – which sees Kristin Hersh threaten to ‘fight the clouds with your head on a stick’ – burns a long fuse of malintent through a lengthy, repetitive outro. Guitars settle into a chugging riff, short vocal phrases grow in scale, piling body parts, hers and her lover’s, ‘in my head/in your heart,’ roadkill alongside ‘the road/the road home,’ concluding in a defiant chant: ‘I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care.’ PJ Harvey’s horrific ‘Nina In Ecstasy II’, which dates from Is This Desire?, preempts the ghostly child-actors of White Chalk with a single, high-register vocal line, a young girl lamenting her own demise and calling for her mother (the chorus’ only word, drawn-out and shaky, is ‘MAMA’) – and then flatly gives us the time-of-death by using the chorus of 1971’s winter warmer ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ as an outro. ‘Where’s your mama gone? Far, far away.’ The melody floats down from the heights of the chorus to meet a funereal organ part. You’re left feeling as though you found the body, and it’s the outro that does it, that sets Nina down where she can clearly be seen. Take that, Nick Cave! Back to murder-ballad school with you!

But the truest, most lovingest-best function of the outro is not to conclude. It’s takeoff, not landing, that is the outro’s real business, and the more pop the form, the faster the ascent. That’s why DJ’s love outro songs; they glitter-glue people to the dancefloor with sheer excitement. Tell me your favourite Daft Punk song isn’t Aerodynamic. I won’t believe you. I don’t believe you didn’t lose your breath when you first heard the song move directly from intro to double-tapping outro heaven. Such a radical gesture, the song as means to its own end – I don’t believe you didn’t run around and fall all over yourself and shout. They knew you would, too, knew they had written possibly the greatest outro of all time, and that’s why when they play it live, they segue straight into it from ‘One More Time’, a song which is, lyrically at least, a perpetual intro. ‘One more time, we’re gonna celebrate,’ they call; the ragged, insistent, irresistible arpeggios of ‘Aerodynamic’and the absolute abandon they bring – are the only possible response.

Judee Sill

•May 10, 2009 • 10 Comments
Judee

Judee

Originally published in Plan B magazine, April 2009 – www.planbmag.com/shop

Somewhere Out There – Judee Sill

This is a religious song about flying saucers coming at the end of the world to take all of the sensitive, deserving people away. When I wrote it, I think I believed it more literally than I do now, although I still believe poetically that deserving people will be spared.”

Judee Sill’s speaking voice, though darker in texture, tougher and more sardonic than her singing voice, is the best possible introduction to her songs. As she hands out her descriptive buttonholes, busting herself proudly for stealing licks from R&B, gospel, or cartoon soundtracks; as she gives her halting, often angry depictions of the imagistic landscapes conjured by the songs; as she relates so straightforwardly her times of spiritual difficulty, her tone never wavers. Sill’s voice is always companionable, even at its most painful or arcane, and until she leans in to the microphone to sing, and breathes, I sometimes forget she’s gone. Long gone, and not as she hoped, the way the gentle go home, spared the darkness of the end times, but in undeserved pain and confusion.

Maybe she never was one of the gentle. Despite her Californian background, her melodic intricacy and the intimacy of her vocal delivery, Judee Sill is emphatically not a Canyon lady, a flower child baking musical cakes. Her work is structurally faultless by self-imposed, ahistorical standards and subject to a supremely accomplished production ethic, drawing from traditions and techniques as disparate as gospel, bluegrass and baroque classical to form a style she termed ‘country-cult-baroque’. Sill’s working life as a musician was brief: she released only two albums, 1971’s Judee Sill and 1973’s Heart Food, neither of which flourished commercially, despite very favourable critical responses, albeit within the constraints allotted to women musicians at the time.

2009 is the 30th anniversary of her death, and for most of those 30 years, despite a growing underground profile, both albums have been out of print. The lengthy unavailability of her recorded output – by various accounts, the result of oversight or grudge on the part of David Geffen, with whom Sill had a troubled professional relationship – had, until recently, meant that her work was largely overlooked for reappraisal. But since the reissue of both albums in 2005, the Live In London collection and the posthumous Dreams Come True, an anthology of unreleased songs and rarities, Sill’s work has been more readily understood, in part through the influence she has had upon artists as varied as XTC, Joanna Newsom, Elliott Smith and Jim O’Rourke.

Judee Sill committed the capital crime of being better than the male competition,” insists Andy Partridge of XTC, who wrote liner notes for the re-releases and readily admits to a ‘What Would Judee Do’ production ethic. “She should be considered in the same breath as Brian Wilson. In fact [Wilson] is the nearest male I can think of to Judee Sill. Surf’s Up has the kind of arrangements and treatments that she did, the multitracked vocal and the reverb, and the kind of chorus sound on the guitar.”

Her melodies and songwriting are kind of unparalleled, by a certain set of standards,” Joanna Newsom told Plan B in 2007. “She’s really good at one particular idiom, this American vernacular thing that in some ways Van Dyke Parks is kind of the king of, in modern pop music. [Aaron] Copland-isms; the American frontier classical symphonic sound. Almost every one of her songs has these figures that are 100 per cent part of Twenties or Thirties American classical music. And she has these weird gospel harmonies on top of that.”

If Sill looks, with hindsight, somewhat awkward among the pantheon of Seventies female singer-songwriters, she was also anomalous within the context in which she worked. She came to prominence among the Laurel Canyon scene of the late Sixties and early Seventies, the relatively commercial bunch based around David Geffen’s nascent Asylum label, a stable which included Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, and Jackson Browne. In this company, Sill was not considered an especially profitable prospect. An ambitious minor heiress adrift in the sad remnants of hippy culture, she was promiscuous and openly bisexual; witchy-looking, unpredictable and narcissistic, she would never be the cover girl Geffen wanted for his label. Sill was comfortable neither in mainstream society nor in the limited countercultural niches available to women in contemporary Los Angeles. She played bass in several bands, studied Rosicrucianism and theosophy, and kept a small harem of women at her beckon-call – and by 1971, at a time when women musicians were still expected to look pretty and behave, she was already notoriously uppity, growling at inadequately respectful audiences and complaining about her support slots for ‘snotty rock groups’. Sill did not come easily to performance; behind her were her profoundly troubled family life, a stint as a teenage armed robber, reform school, sex work, addiction and prison. Immediately before her was a meteoric, frustrating career as a commercial musician, whose lack of viability would prompt a relapse into depression and ultimately into the addiction that was to end her life; yet the two albums she produced, in the window between periods of chaos and unbearable sadness, contain some of the most consummate and, above all, esoteric pop compositions of any era.

Sill’s self-titled debut, on Asylum in 1971, was the label’s first release. Eleven ambrosial, carefully arranged tracks – Sill listed her influences at the time as Bach, Pythagoras, and Ray Charles – it’s an extraordinarily self-assured and coherent debut, hewn over years spent in the shadow of LA pop bands for whom Sill wrote songs or opened shows. After one such effort, ‘Lady-O’, scored a minor commercial success for the Turtles, David Geffen, until then an agent, was interested enough to give Sill a retainer until his label was up and running.

Characteristically stubborn and competitive was Sill’s insistence on re-recording ‘Lady-O’ for her own album. Both the Turtles version and Sill’s own share the same complex orchestration, but Sill’s is by far the more coherent-sounding; the multitracked vocal, expertly managed phrasing, and creamy quality to the tonal picture, add a sense of completeness to the intertwining of guitar and strings. The vocal is gauged perfectly as a segment of the sound; the earlier Turtles vocal sounds tacked-on by comparison. All the parts at play are fully realised, in all their dimensions: the interplay of melody and arrangement, the tiny shifts of mood as the vocal races the guitar to resolution, Sill’s vocal sustain mimicking the swell and the weight of the strings. The key is the compositional understanding, a grasp of the architecture of the song in macro and micro. ‘May You Savor Each Word Like A Raspberry,’ reads the album inset, and Sill’s version does feel as naturally developed, as perfectly formed, as fruit.

The album foregrounds Sill’s lyrical concerns as much as her idiosyncratic musicality and perfectionism. The songs are a provocative mix of quasi-religious imagery and gender confusion, shot through with a longing for redemption underscored by hard experience, and yet the overall impression is somehow of ease and comfort. Given the conceptual difficulty and metaphysical struggle of the average Sill lyric, the sense of supernatural well-being that she manages to confer on the listener might be surprising, had she not had such a clarity of intent for her arrangements. Multitracked vocals, often in choral form, shimmer through piano, strings, brass and guitar; melodic lines are answered by their chordal context in such satisfying ways, their resonance is barely grasped before being replaced by the next moment of delicious tension or abundant resolution.

‘Though the beast within me’s a liar, he made me glow with a strange desire, and I rode on the fire, with a blue sacred opal to bless the battleground; but I turned to see its reflection, and the lamb ran away with the crown’, Sill sings blithely in ‘The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown’. The vocal glosses over a shift in time signature between 4/4 and 3/4, as guitar, backing vocals and trumpets swap roles in the melodic picture, presaging an imminent four-part vocal round reminiscent of the closing bars of ‘God Only Knows’. Sill’s interest in both classical mythology and Crowleyan mysticism is visible here – she was an avid reader of Aleister Crowley’s poetry, and the sexual imagery of demonic possession springs directly from early works such as Snowdrops From A Curate’s Garden, while also reminiscent of the sexual ecstasies of the early female Catholic martyrs. Within the lyric, Sill portrays herself variously as the debased, flawed exile from the Garden, and the triumphant beast who sails the heavens on ‘ten crested cardinals’. ‘But I laughed so hard I cried,’ closes the song, ‘and the lamb ran away with the crown.’ A baritone saxophone positively chuckles at the thought as the vocal round fades out, no one line or perspective clearly dominant. In live performances, Sill would use her voice alone to replicate all four parts of the round, then the backing vocals. “I wanted to write a song where good triumphs over evil,” she said as she performed the song in London, neglecting to mention that she had cast herself as the vanquished.

In her lyrics, she’s always wrestling with the devil, and she’s the devil,” suggests Partridge. “The man is Christ and she’s the devil, and she wants the man but she can’t have the man, and she’s gonna kill the man, and he’s gonna kill her – and it’s all one giant fight with herself.”

Seldom is this conflation of sexual and spiritual warfare within Sill’s work clearer than in ‘Jesus Was A Crossmaker’, a song written in the wake of a painful jilting at the hands of country singer and labelmate J D Souther, and produced by Graham Nash. Initially, the lyric identifies Souther with the carpenter-Christ, toolmaker of his own torture and death. Sill presents this idea, morbid in the hands of a lesser songwriter, as deeply hopeful – in a contemporary recording on the Old Grey Whistle Test, she explains that with this realisation, she began to see redemption as available to all of humanity – and yet still she begs for release from the burden of empathy for her torturer. ‘Hiding me, I flee, desire dividing me; he’s a bandit and a heartbreaker – oh, but Jesus was a crossmaker. Sweet silver angels over the sea, please come down flying low for me,’ she sings, trapped in her own Gethsemane. Once again, her voice is multitracked, this time in unison, before breaking into choral harmony – two, three, four parts, as the strings filigree like a baroque harpsichord trill, and backing vocals alternate between human call and angelic response. In one video of a very early solo performance of the song, seated at her guitar, Sill closes by humming an approximation of the string part, so complete is her imagination of the necessary variation. She was later to hum these same approximations to the album’s arranger, her ex-husband, keyboard player Bob Harris, to aid the orchestration of the various parts, since she herself could not at that time notate a multi-instrumental score.

By the time Asylum released Sill’s second album, Heart Food, in 1973, that would no longer be the case. Sill arranged, produced and orchestrated the album herself, and seems more confident still: the gospel influence is considerably stronger, dominating the arrangements of ‘When The Bridegroom Comes’ and ‘Down Where The Valleys Are Low’, and the country idioms also more pronounced, particularly in the sweet fiddle of ‘Rugged Road’. But at the heart of this heart’s food lies the baroque influence that provided so much of Sill’s structural approach to songwriting and arrangement. As Gershwin is to Brian Wilson, so Bach is to Sill. The piano part for ‘The Kiss’, the album‘s second track, closely resembles the prelude of Bach’s first cello suite, transposed into 3/4 and augmented by a legato vocal that recalls the cello both tonally – Sill’s characteristic, swelling sustain and dramatically extended vowel sounds – and melodically. As the piano abandons its arpeggiation to supply insistent gospel chords over the song’s bridge, the vocal finds an ostinato that sets the template for a new counterpoint harmony. The lyric is impressionistic, and the place of the vocal in the mix all but binds it into the dense sound picture, until the string counterpoint emerges to emphasise its most solemn moments. ‘Storms bursting in the sky, hear the sad nova’s dying cry shimmer in memory,’ Sill sings with great tenderness and calm, violins pushing the mind’s eye heavenward as surely as any celestial reference in the lyric. The sum of the parts would be enough, but Sill manages, somehow, more; the effect is both mindbending and heartrending, a healing in sound.

You can try to pin that golden smoke to the wall, but you’re still only getting glimpses of what makes it,” warns Partridge. “ ‘The Kiss’ reduces me to tears faster than any other song I’ve ever heard. The lyrics are a set of clues, they build the tension, and then the melody cuts every string in your body. She was on her way; she could have become the world’s best songwriter and arranger.”

Could have, had she lived. The release of Dreams Come True in 2005, which gathered the early recordings of songs Sill had planned for her third album, as well as rarities, home recordings and a lengthy anecdotal oral history, is sadly the final word on Sill’s life and work. Mixed by Jim O’Rourke, the songs are strangely shiny and cheerful at a time when Sill’s own frustration, always a fruitful source of inspiration, seems to have been turning to despair. When she died, overdosing on codeine and cocaine she was taking to manage the pain of a spinal injury, Sill was once again living hand to mouth and managing a growing addiction, alone and out of touch with the musical community. Many of her former friends heard of her death only later. It’s far too hard a passing for this soldier of the heart, a woman who struggled so mightily, and who built out of her struggle such a strange, merciful refuge for her listeners.

Gowns

•April 3, 2009 • 1 Comment

Originally published in Plan B magazine, February 2008 – www.planbmag.com/shop

Gowns@ The Greenhouse Effect, December 14th, 2007

gowns

The Gowns album, Red State, was possibly the most truthful record of 2007. Last year, that nosebleed of a year, its frightening Rorschach of losses and blows, its surreal relentlessness, was best soundtracked by Red State‘s sinister, dronebound poppetry, its chant-in-mitigation to, what – some minor school-bully god of dread, of resignation? Gowns narrated their own trajectory, and ours, shocked and numb and self-medicated as we were, our lives describing, suddenly and intimately, the cracks in everything: in every little thing.

On this freezing, bright-dark December evening, halfway through a beleaguered set, 24 people are watching Gowns. The Greenhouse Effect is full, the staircase outside is festooned with smokers, the bar is three-deep; Zettosaur have already skronked their way through a half-hour’s pleasurable mayhem; and Erika is standing in the corner, facing a crowd of more than a hundred, her eyes screwed shut, her lips brushing the microphone. Her white Mustang beats rhythmically against her hip as it swings, and her hands describe some part of the past spilling out here, again, for us, and only 24 people are watching, squandered randomly among the first 8 rows of a crowd intent on boredom. Join the dots: it spells FUCK YOU.

Gowns began their set with a spoken-word piece. Erika strode onstage, wearing her familiar tour uniform, a torn, home-made t-shirt that reads ‘MY OVARIES ARE A BREEDING GROUND FOR TERRORISTS’, and whispered, clawing at her wrists, images of children and animals minded by maniacs, of plump arms in puppy jaws. Ezra, crouched behind his synth, and Jacob, seated on his bass amp, played pedal hopscotch. Erika’s breath, pushing gently at the air around the PA, began to recall the Lynchian midwesternisms of the record, kids in the yard, a summersworth of lawn sprinklers, as Corey bowed his ride cymbal, both slowly and violently, a lovely cadence growing.

But then, during the second song, as Erika coos ‘and don’t you know that I would never hurt you, you are such… a pretty…. thing,’ the PA fails. The band waits a long time before anyone even moves to help, to begin the song again. And the sound fails once, twice more. This level of frustration is difficult to watch; the crowd begins to move away from the stage. People turn to one another, smirking over their beers, and most never really look back.

Gowns understand the impulse to look away. Seeing is painful, sight reveals far too much for comfort, throughout Red State: ropes hang by open windows, the pattern of a kitchen table describes the unbearably expanding universe. Even light is dangerous. The golden, endless glow of ‘Fargo’ reveals dust and an empty room, waiting for a soldier to return; ‘Take, take all the shine out of me,’ begs ‘Mercy’, which, tonight, is excruciating – Ezra screams until he can no longer be heard, until the sound is utterly extinguished, then pulls needle-tones from his violin, bloody, and drops them to the floor. The last time I saw Ezra, touring with the Mae Shi, his ebullience recalled a cuckoo clock. This show could not be further removed. It’s merciless and unrelenting: very little comfort is offered or taken. All Gowns have their eyes tight shut whenever possible, though the impression is not of an attempt at hiding, but of a preferable internal world, recreated under impossible circumstances, at risk of shattering in plain sight.

No matter where in the crowd I am, the noise is inescapable. During a halting, sinister cover of ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’, braving the backroom to get to the bar, I come closer to a fistfight than I’ve been in years. But the opening drone of ‘White Like Heaven’ clusters hope in my stomach, and I push through until I’m inches away from the speakers, saturating. ‘I was sitting at the table and suddenly I could see it, I could see it, I could feel it, I saw the world break open, oh, I could see all of it,’ Erika yells, over the distorted chorale of guitars and violin. Corey’s occasional Bonhamisms find such a home in this song; the drums rattle and bang against my chest before slinking back into the final, utterly absorbing phrase.

Then, over the lovely opening diads of ‘Cherylee’, the roar returns. The sound of the crowd is hollow, like a failing engine. ‘I can’t even see your faces anymore’, Erika calls, as though across a huge distance. In what universe, when a band travels thousands of miles, starts and restarts and restarts a set, a set delivered, nevertheless, unflinchingly, and with such commitment, do you not shut the fuck up and listen? In what universe do you not take every possible moment of this into yourself? You’ve gotta look it in the eyes and say that I don’t believe, you’ve gotta look up out the water until you can’t hardly see. You’ve gotta know. Gowns leave the stage, and the crowd moves towards the exits to smoke, out in the well-deserved dark.

 
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