Speakers Push Air

National Sleazy Day
April 18, 2012, 11:13 am
Filed under: Bands, Gigs!, Narc, Radio | Tags: , , , , ,

When I reviewed the Sleazy tribute gig for Narc magazine, I originally wrote a much longer piece which – understandably, at nearly a thousand words – didn’t get used. Bear in mind that it was written as if for Narc,  so it’s in the same sort of style I’d use to write there: nothing too florid, not assuming too much prior information from the casual reader etc. Anyway..

Wishful Thinking: A Tribute To Peter ChristophersonTyneside Cinema March 17th
Musick To Play In The Dark with Rob YoungTyneside Cinema March 17th
Radio Boredcast – A Tribute To Peter ChristophersonBasicFM March 17th / 18th

I should declare an interest here – I’ve long been fascinated by Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson and his work with Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Coil, Threshold House Boys Choir and Soi Songs. I even have two tattoos based on Coil artwork. So when I heard that a whole day of the AV Festival’s programming was to be given over to a tribute to Sleazy, I couldn’t have been happier.

The day got underway with a significant chunk of Radio Boredcast – the internet station run by Basic FM and programmed by Vicki Bennett of People Like Us for the duration of the AV festival – being given over to Sleazy and his works. Friends and collaborators introduced often quite rare selections of his own material and music he was influenced by (and in some cases had on  his iPod at the time of his passing). So Leonard Cohen, Thai folk music, Arvo Part and Kelis all got played. It was interesting and exciting radio, and a perfect way to get in the mood for what was to come. NB: the playlists can be found here

Rob Young is a damn fine music critic and writer (his work in The Wire is always engaging and astute and his book about English folk, Electric Eden, is essential). So he was almost the ideal person to present a fairly brief talk about Sleazy’s life and work (perhaps David Keenan would have been even better, given that Young quoted liberally from Keenan’s book England’s Hidden Reverse throughout). In the Tyneside Digital Lounge, Young accompanied his talk with snatches of Sleazy’s music and a series of slides – artwork, press photos and the like. The technology seemed to be beset with glitches occasionally (Sleazy would have approved) but stopped proceedings being too dry and gave things a certain atmosphere. To be honest, although Young’s talk did capture some of the spirit of Sleazy – holy fool, digital mystic, village idiot, part ad exec and part shaman – I expected more analysis, more of Young’s impressions of what Sleazy’s music achieved, rather than an informative but fairly obvious biographical rundown. In a room full of people who probably knew all this stuff, it seemed like a slightly missed opportunity. It was a smart move to finish by playing Coil’s Broccoli in its entirely – a song that initially appears a little silly but actually touches on death, family, the quotidian versus the universal. It was also good to hear that Sleazy’s prolific promo work included Cliff and Van’s Whenever God Shines His Light On Me.

After a 2 hour gap which saw a fair number of Sleazy fans wandering around a particularly bleak rainy city centre (and largely settling into Wagamama), it was time for Wishful Thinking, a tribute to Sleazy in sound and film. Sleazy had actually been due to compose a piece for this AV Festival, to be performed at Durham Cathedral where his father had been Vice Chancellor and where Sleazy had been troubled and transported by the cathedral and its choir. While there’s no clear record of what he had in mind, the first half of the tribute was programmed in the spirit of what he might have come up with.

The performance (which ended with screenings of two Coil-soundtracked Derek Jarman movies and Philippe Garrel’s The Inner Scar) started with Attila Csihar taking the stage, a sombre giant, while a number of percussive sounds – bells, Tibetan singing bowls, chimes – were played from the balcony. Atmospheric and unsettling, they provided an ideal precursor to Csihar’s astonishing vocal performance. Formerly the singer in (in)famous Norwegian death metal band Mayhem and now a regular Sunn O))) collaborator, Csihar not only has a phenomenal, apocalyptic voice, especially effective when multi-tracked, but is also adept at overtone (or throat) singing. The second part of his performance involved the playing of backing tracks which were recorded in Durham Cathedral itself – a ‘silence’ manifesting as muffled voices, bells ringing, doors shutting, a distant telephone. After some time, a series of projected images (essentially the beauty of youth and the inevitably of death and decay) and some further vocals from Csihar drew the piece to a close, but not before a cowled figure covered in lights had appeared at the edges of the venue, moving in suitably spectral fashion. It was the sort of performance you could either mock for its portentous or lose yourself in – I recommend the latter: it was powerful stuff.

It’s strangely pleasing that Chris (Carter) and Cosey (Fanny Tutti) look so unassuming behind their laptops and effects units considering their CV  – ‘wreckers of civilisation’ who tweet about their cat Dexter. The music they performed tonight had a difficult gestation it would take the whole of this review to explain, but what we got was live remixes of tracks from the final, as yet unreleased, Throbbing Gristle album Desertshore – a cover of the Nico album of the same name which was a big influence on Sleazy. Initially things were a little disappointing, the first track a fairly unremarkable electro chug although with some really pummelling beats, the second – with recorded vocals from Blixa Bargeld – more of the same. But the next two – with Cosey adding gorgeous live vocals, cornet and treated slide guitar and an amazing recorded contribution from Anthony Hegarty – were fantastic. The short set concluded with an entirely new track, featuring the processed and overlaid voices of Sleazy’s friends and collaborators repeating the phrase “Meet me on the desert shore” to fairly heartbreaking effect.

 Postscript: It’s the curse of still being out in the sticks that I didn’t see a fraction of the things I wanted that went on during AV12: As Slow As Possible, but even so, in the course of about 10 days I saw or experienced amazing performances from Nurse With Wound, Chris & Cosey, Attila Csihar, Forest Swords, The Caretaker and Pye Corner Audio (all for free, thanks to Narc Magazine). Stuff like this reminds me that Newcastle is a great city and London isn’t necessarily the only place stuff like this happens.

April’s Narc Content #1: Live Reviews

Wishful Thinking: A Tribute To Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson: Chris & Cosey / Attila Csihar – Tyneside Cinema, March 17th

This tribute to Sleazy was in part an attempt to hint at what his commissioned AV piece would have been if he hadn’t passed away in 2010.

Bells, Tibetan singing bowls and chimes emanated from the balcony, focussing us, calming us as a precursor to former Mayhem singer Attila Csihar’s performance. Augmenting his phenomenal, apocalyptic voice with overtone (throat) singing and multitracking, he mixed in tracks of ‘silence’ recorded in Durham Cathedral – muffled voices, bells ringing, doors shutting, a distant telephone. Projected images (the beauty of youth, the inevitably of death), more astonishing vocals from Csihar and a spectral figure moving sombrely round the cinema drew the piece to a close. It was the sort of performance you could either mock for its portentous or lose yourself in – I recommend the latter: it was powerful stuff.

Chris & Cosey – so unassuming behind their laptops and effects – performed a handful of live remixes of tracks from the final Throbbing Gristle album, Desertshore (a cover of the Nico album). Initially a rather unremarkable electro chug (albeit with some really pummelling drums), things soon improved with Cosey adding gorgeous vocals, cornet and treated slide guitar, and an amazing recorded contribution from Anthony Hegarty. The short set concluded with an entirely new track, featuring the processed and overlaid voices of Sleazy’s friends and collaborators repeating the phrase “Meet me on the desert shore” to fairly heartbreaking effect.


Killing Joke / The Icarus Line – Newcastle Academy March 13th

The Icarus Line started life as a fairly straightforward west coast punk band and you can’t help thinking that would have gone down better with a largely indifferent but occasionally outright hostile Killing Joke crowd than the Birthday Party / Stooges retreads they offered tonight. Frontman Joe Cardamone worked hard but was never going to win over the Joke faithful who knew exactly what they wanted and were about to get it.

The last time I saw Killing Joke was in the mid-80s and this gig, with the reunited ‘’classic’ line, wasn’t much different. The sound is still impressive verging on bombastic, and Geordie really is one of the very best guitarists of the whole post punk era. It’s hard to keep up with what apocalyptic predictions are possessing Jaz Colman these days but he still comes on like a cross between a maniacal shaman and a panto dame, all puppet moves and grandiose gestures.

To be honest, the first half of the set – mostly new stuff – dragged a little. But once they dug into the archives for Wardance, Psyche and an especially epic Love Like Blood you realized that for all the sturm und drang, Killing Joke can still be an amazing live band.


Future Islands / Warm Digits – Cluny 2, March 8th

I haven’t seen a bill this upside down since The Flaming Lips decimated Teenage Fanclub years ago.

Let’s start with the losers, then. Future Islands came with a whole heap of Pitchfork-based love and I’m at a loss to understand why. Take away an unremarkable bassist and some very predictable electronics (with none of the magic of New Order, a frequent reference point) and you’re left with a pompous buffoon of a singer – equal parts Vic Reeves’ club singer, Russell Crowe and Lee Evans – who’s idea of stage craft is to repeatedly slap himself round the face and prance about like a boxer.  Their success is mystifying.

Thank god, then, for Warm Digits – a revelation to me even if they’re old news to everyone else on Tyneside. On a stage crammed with so much kit it looked like a hacker’s bedroom, the duo faultlessly set about reworking a near- perfect set of influences (motorik Neu grooves, Kraftwerk synths, DFA cowbells, a dash of Tortoise and Errors) into something genuinely warm and new and exciting. They made me grin all over my stupid face for the entirety of their too short, non-stop set and nothing Future Islands did after could take that grin away.