DEERHUNTER @ WEBSTER HALL, NYC AUGUST 23RD 2011
I’d been in New York for around seven hours and there had already been an earthquake. I was feeling pretty zombiefied from a day of planes and taxis and no sleep for Hell knows how long, but I figured that if the ground was gonna crack and swallow me up in the next few days then I’d regret not going to see Deerhunter play NYC.
I spent the majority of Eleanor Friedberger’s opening performance zoning out and daydreaming about her guitarist: wondering how he spent his days, whether he lived in New York, what he was like with his friends, whether he knew he was cute, etc. It felt weirdly pleasant to have the waking world hanging against the sleeping one by a couple of lusty threads.
I was glad to not be overly familiar with the work that Friedberger had soldiered away with as one half of Fiery Furnaces over the last few years, as it meant I didn’t automatically start rating her solo stuff against her previous work. I couldn’t hum or name a FF song if you asked me. As it goes, the songs she played last night (which I presume were from the Last Summer record that I saw at the merch table) were perfect for my aforementioned zoning out. Encouragingly hard to pinpoint, Friedberger’s songs were jangly and imbued with a subtle drama that hinted at various emotional sources; some nice melodies too. Gonna check out the album, for sure.
Maybe the tiredness attributed to a certain level of impatience (and of course there was a large amount of anticipation, with the headliners being one of my favourite bands of recent years) but it seemed like Deerhunter took a long time to make it onto the stage; a couple of road crew pottered around the stage several times before the smoke machine started up and the in house CD faded out and four figures sauntered onto the Webster Hall stage.
The first confusing moment was trying to work out who the guy holding Bradford’s guitar was, and the second was wondering where Bradford was. I’m very good at recognizing faces that I’ve seen before but often pretty bad at working out where I’ve seen them. Eventually it clicked that I’d actually seen the “new” guy in Deerhunter photographs from a while back, meaning that he was not “new” at all. In fact, he was Colin Mee, who played on both the band’s first two records before leaving under a cloud around about four years ago. Surprise guest Mee (who has gone on to perform in Hollow Stars) and Lockett Pundt began making fuzz-drenched blankets of sound as Moses Archuleta and Josh Fauvner combined to lay the seeds of a rumbling undertone that would be consistently deep and simultaneously thrashing for the rest of the show.
After enough of the drone had passed, Cox made his way before the audience. Looking like he was in 50s pin-up mode – with greased back hair and vintage shirt – he was soon in full-on unnerving mode. Changing the mood rapidly from reunion celebration to some kind of delicious black mass, Bradford stalked back and forth glaring into fans’ eyes with a look, that was at best disarming and at worst possessed. There was a sense of drama that suited perfectly the opening set of songs which taken from the Fluorescent Grey EP and Cryptograms – a particularly death-obsessed, morbid corner of Deerhunter’s career. For the record it was a fucking joy to hear those songs, as they’re a rarity, not to mention having Mee there to perform them too.
Colin departed and handed the guitar back to Bradford and the band hit hard into a set that was comprised of tracks from most recent LP, Halcyon Digest, and its predecessor, Microcastle.
The last time I saw Deerhunter was on their UK tour when they played Manchester back in March. I guess they must have been on tour on and off since then. It definitely shows – there’s an intensity (not to mention a tightness) that only comes from playing solidly for months (or I guess in DH’s case, years) and a self assuredness, that for whatever reason seemed to be best summed up by the way that Josh Fauvner swayed around, going from rhythmically bouncing on the spot one second, to ferociously hammering into his bass the next. It’s hard to nail down what the contributing factors are, but it really feels like Deerhunter have now become the band that they always wanted to be.
Jamming freely into some of the most beautiful noise imaginable – both in-between and during songs (with one of the extended improvised passages transforming Nothing Ever Happened into an impromptu cover of Patti Smith’s Horses), Deerhunter are clearly a confident and immersed group of musicians who play off each other superbly. However they are also able to match their technical ability with an emotional range that can switch from ethereal to visceral without a blink.
New York City and I got a treat.
Nothing Ever Happened
Twilight at Carbon Lake
Calvary Scars II
*with Colin Mee
I’m spending a few days in London and this afternoon I decided to pay a visit to the awesome Gays The Word bookshop in Russell Square. From the talking the manager Jimmy MacSweeney, it turns out that their place was attacked last night around 12:20am. The front window was egged, and then smashed in. It seems pretty certain that the vandalism was homophobic, as no other shops or buildings in the area were targeted. I decided to take the above photograph and mention it on here because the from talking to the staff in Gays The Word, the support that people have shown to them today – whether online or from the people who popped into the shop – has meant a lot. So yeah – if you have a spare moment, feel free to drop them a note.
Most mornings on the way to work I zone out to music and let my eyes rest upon the familiar route of The Midland Metro – a light rail tram service that runs between the cities of Wolverhampton and Birmingham, ending and commencing its route over once it reaches the Snow Hill station in Birmingham City Centre. My stop is around half way along the line and up until I reach it I’m confronted with factories, small towns (Wednesdbury, West Bromwich), fallen industries, miles of concrete, scrap yards, empty football fields, deserted areas and thriving communities. I grew up in the West Midlands, so it’s not new, but despite its familiarity, the landscape still evokes mixed feelings when I gaze out at it at 6:39am each day. There’s a sadness, a real melancholy to the surrounding areas, but also a beauty – the mix of experiences, shared and personal, that make life what it is. The scenery of the West Midlands is as comforting as it is threatening.
At the start of the summer I attended Birmingham’s annual Flatpack Film Festival and saw a film about the Home of Metal, a campaign to promote the recognition of the West Midlands as a major part of music history (having spawned Black Sabbath, Napalm Death, and a ton of other influential acts that have gone on to inspire an incomprehensible amount of artists worldwide). Justin Broderick of Godflesh talked about the role that Birmingham played in shaping his work – how his music was a reflection of the violent, urban and engulfing atmosphere that surrounded him.
“I think Birmingham really has influenced me,” agrees Tom Wagstaff, when I raise the subject of how an environment can influence an artist. “Birmingham is supposed to be the second city, but as far as I’m concerned, we’re the underdog. Birmingham’s seen as a wasteland, when there’s actually this really thriving community; it may be small but it’s very strong. And I’d rather be from Birmingham than from, say, London … it’s not about being the faces, or being famous within a scene – it’s about knowing people and feeling part of a community. Through doing the music I’ve made a lot of friends. It feels like there’s a very tight contingent of them and it’s great what people do here. You only have to scratch lightly on the surface and it’s there. A lot of people blame the places where they’re from, well they don’t even blame them, they fucking bitch about it, but I love Birmingham.”
The music that Wagstaff mentions includes a trail of bands, most notably Knives and Beestung Lips. His current band, BARGEPOLE, for whom he provides vocals and guitar first hooked me at a show at they played at The Victoria a few months back. I’d heard their name via a recommendation from my friend (and incredible artist) Matt Snowden, who’d raved about their forthcoming album, about the quality of their recorded work and about the ferocity of their live shows.
As first impressions go – BARGEPOLE made a good one. They floored me – almost literally in fact, as I swerved to avoid the legs of Wagstaff as he rolled around in glass, amid a dense wall of vicious riffs, reminiscent of the Jesus Lizard (a band cited by the band as an influence) both musically and in terms of swagger. It had been a while since I’d felt that buzzed after seeing a new band, especially a new local band – although I’m never keen on the connotations of that term, but whatever.
Another gig later and I’m sitting with Tom and guitarist Jim Carroll upstairs at the Hare and Hound in the Kingsheath area of Birmingham. This time round, BAREGPOLE were supported by Snowden’s Dream Dreams the Dreamer noise orchestra and Backwards – who feature members from the aforementioned Beestung Lips – and it’s easy to see evidence of the artistic and musical community that Wagstaff talks so fondly of. With their chaotic wall of sound, Snowden’s musical cacophony is very different to the sludgy, hypnotic grooves that Backwards employ in their sound, which in turns is different to BARGEPOLE, but there’s a very definite bond between the various artists in the building (including constant Brum-championing internet genius Pete Ashton who provided the beautifully insane DJing for the evening) and a sense that the people here are doing their stuff (music, art, whatever) for the right reasons.
“Tonight was a step in the right direction for us,” Tom offers about the evening’s gig. “I mean, the last show you saw us at … I mean, people use the word ‘punk rock’ and talk about passion … but at the end of the day, I was pissed out my mind at the last show.” Having played this latest show sober, he talks about it being a turning point. “If you’re drinking and it’s not fun anymore and you’re still playing the music just because it’s something you’ve done your whole life, there’s no reason to be doing it. But tonight – it’s an epiphany – because I used to play music sober and I used to fucking enjoy it, and it was really, really nice to do that [tonight].”
The idea of excess and the fallout from such is a subject that Wagstaff seems to have spent a fair amount of time thinking about. It’s dealt with in the lyrics of one of their songs, Sinners. “Sinners is about spending every weekend and spending every second of that weekend trying to cram in as much as you can, acting like a rockstar because it’s the only time you get to do it and I find that a really sad existence – you have to spend the weekend being yourself or what you perceive to be yourself for just that little amount of time, which a lot of people do.” He seems in contemplative mood. “I think you need to have a kind of honesty to your life and that’s what I’m learning to do. I mean, I used to do it as well. I used to but a wrap of coke at six o’clock in the afternoon on Friday and I’d have spent about five hundred pounds by the time it came to twelve o’clock on Sunday and that’s no way for a man to live.”
The last few words of that sentence “that’s no way for a man to live” echo a line from the album and leads me on to one of my favourite things about BARGEPOLE: the lyrics. Having been lucky enough to hear an advance copy of their album, I’ve been able to listen to their songs over and over and each time there have been different lines that have jumped out and sprung up on me. There are times when Wagstaff sounds pissed off and there are times when he sounds genuinely disturbed (“I sit and shake”). His words overflow with a sincerity that’s genuinely touching but what’s really impressive is that he manages to articulate his emotions and themes (isolation, loss, frustration) in a way that doesn’t seem at odds with the frantic barrage that the band create.
Further impressive is the consistent brilliance of each of the songs that make up BARGEPOLE’s debut album – Born a Genius, Buried and Idiot. Recorded at The Lodge in Northampton, which itself sounds like a whole other story in itself – Tom talks about how the owner (who he talks of glowingly, and adds “I wouldn’t record anywhere else) provides shelter and accommodation for gay youths who’ve been kicked out of their homes – BARGEPOLE have managed to translate the intensity of their live shows onto record without losing a shred along the way. In fact, the album reveals more dimensions to the group than may come across in a gig setting. The contrast between the album’s aggressive moments (and believe me there are a lot of them) and the albums more restrained tracks make the later seem even more fragile. Sandwiched between two frenetic, vicious stabs that bring to mind various bands from Touch and Go Records’ peak years, Death Wrapped in a Blue Dress becomes even more haunting than had it stood aside tracks more similar to itself. Veering between seething attack and desperate longing BARGEPOLE’s first album is a fucking masterstroke, overflowing with hidden depths. Their music kinda reminds me of The Birthday Party, not particularly in style but in the mood and the attitude that it strikes, which is as thuggish as it is classy.
Above all, there’s a palpable kinship at the heart of the band that seems vital to its core. Wagstaff sums it up, saying “The one thing I want to do with it is just be honest with each other and be honest with everyone else around us.” What they’ve achieved with their album, suggests that BARGEPOLE are very much on track.
“Sometimes I just feel like the best things don’t exist in words. It’s like something that’s post-logic. I don’t ever care about making perfect sense. It’s like making perfect nonsense. It exists outside that. I’ve never had any other kind of motivation other than to see something in a specific way that no one else is showing me.”
– Harmony Korine, 2011
Ambitious and beautiful. I’m gonna have to try and get my thoughts into order before I try and write about it.
Seems almost pointless writing something about Tyler, The Creator because you can read about him at so many other places at the moment. I’ve been listening to GOBLIN a lot though. BASTARD, too. Both are great but the former especially has been twisting my imagination in circles as well as entertaining and moving me in all sorts of ways. Yesterday, I was trying to sum up why I like the album so much and struggled to do it. I will try again now and struggle some more. There’s this really raw emotionally fucked up mess of feelings that oozes out of GOBLIN. There’s a confusion to Tyler’s latest album that is so sincere that it’s beautiful. That’s it. It’s as simple and as complex as that.
Without wanting to seem like an irritating self-publicist, I want to say how proud I am to have my new novella, GRAVES, released by the wonderful KIDDIEPUNK press over in Paris. I’m thrilled to have something out on an imprint that I think so highly of. To add the icing on the cake, Dennis Cooper has also kindly highlighted the book over on his blog today. For anymore information on it please click here.
To the Sea
Tadasu Takamine’s work occupies a dreamy headspace in which sexuality and the politics of sex are examined with a calmness that allows for a reading unburdened by conventional notions of morality and hetero-normative assumption. Although his art is not completely removed from these confines, it is at least held at a distance that encourages a re-assessment or a chance for a different kind of objectivity.
The distance that Takamine creates seems key to his work. The five pieces that make up Too far to see – the artist’s current exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery – combine to build a collective neutral space. Although each of Takamine’s videos has a powerful emotional pull, what they don’t do is manipulate the audience towards any definite grand narrative or point of view.
The exhibition opens with Water Level and Organ Sound (2004). Two women drift underwater, disappearing and reappearing from sight, their bodies glazed with ethereal light. The gorgeous effect is heightened with the discovery that the film is actually lit from behind by a light shone through a real glass tank of water, through which the film can be seen in an even more unearthly gaze.
Water Level and Organ Sound (2004)
Within any grey area there is contradiction. The conflict in Tadasu’s work becomes apparent during Inertia (1998), in which a woman rides atop a speeding train and battles to stop her dress from constant gusts of wind that reveal her underwear. The artist succeeds in using an unusually obvious metaphor that still manages to stand separate from its seemingly natural signifying role – the nightmare and sleaze of being assaulted during rush hour – and Inertia still holds a collected and thoughtful hush as beautiful and everyday Japanese landscapes continuously vanish down the tracks. The menace is there, but there is still beauty, an uneasy yet natural pair.
For the filming of God Bless America (2002), Takamine lived in a small red room with his partner for two and a half weeks. Sped up and time lapsed footage show the pair as they live, fuck, eat, smoke, work. In the centre of their temporary home is what looks like a huge pile of Plasticine. Takamine and his partner continuously mould the clay into different shapes, often creating totemic heads. The faces turn from more traditional tribal visages, into that of George W Bush. The most overtly playful piece in the exhibition, it seems to show how the pair has chosen to confine themselves from the policed freedom of the outside world, in a temporary autonomous zone in which they can act as they please.
God Bless America (2002)
In some ways I felt that God Bless America was slightly less cohesive as part of the exhibition – not in quality, but in mood – although bizarrely, it led on perfect to the next film in which a stationary camera gazes at the face of a woman resting her head on a pillow. As her breath stutters and her eyes roll, the viewer can hypothesise various situations: she could be masturbating, dreaming, or sick. In fact the woman is Takamine’s partner, three hours away from giving birth. The lack of explanation given in the film allows for a more complex reading, in which the lines between sex and pleasure blur. From the playful and anarchic genesis of a relationship in God Bless America, the new start of a family begins in To The Sea (2004).
The most controversial and therefore discussed piece of the show is Kimura-San (1998), in which the artist is shown sexually pleasuring a disabled friend, who indeed is the namesake of the piece. I was reminded of Crispin Glover’s It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE which focuses on the violent sexual fantasies of a man with cerebral palsy. Takamine’s ethical dissection of sexual needs and rights of the disabled is less visceral and instead is more about an expression of affection. The artist talks of his friendship with Kimura-San and the act of masturbation depicted in the film, in my eyes, manages to transcend any notion of shock value or any of the other harsh and misplaced criticisms of the piece.
With Too far to see, Tadasu Takamine has revealed a confused and sometimes uncomfortable set of films. However ultimately they possess a spirit free from calculation or pre-planned controversy. Some critics may struggle with the apparent simplicity of the allusions that Takamine often references with his work, but the sincerity of his investigations seems to overpower that. With these videos, rather than trying to make grand statements I got the feeling, very much, of an artist thinking out loud.