Pharmakon, GNOD, Basic House, Salope: The Old Coroner’s Court, Bristol – live review

Pharmakon, GNOD, Basic House, Salope

The Old Coroner’s Court, Bristol

20th Nov 2013

Louder Than War were lucky enough to experience an evening of unrivalled intensity in Bristol last week, c/o New York siren and manufacturer of “power electronics / death industrial music,” Pharmakon.

This was always going to be a bit of a special evening. Everyone knew that. “Are you going to Pharmakon … of course you’re going to Pharmakon” was something I heard more than once in the days leading up the show. It was a given that anyone who gave a shit about the more inventive end of the music spectrum was going to be there. And the warning on the Facebook page…

“Not suitable for those sensitive to STROBE and NOISE.”

…only served to ramp excitement levels higher.

Primarily the reason for the heightened anticipation was on account of the artists playing, but the venue helped raise peoples expectations too. Previously only really used for underground raves and the like, The Old Coroner’s Court (see pic below) proved to be a fantastic space for a night such as this. That it was dark and cold meant that everyone was wandering around with hoodies up and that the few strobes and coloured lights added to the general “spookiness” of a place, formerly not only an old coroners court, but also a morgue.

Like a twat I missed the first band, Salope, because I was elsewhere handing over a birthday present. But being the solo project of Gareth, one of “Louder Than War favourites” Big Naturals and other ‘Louder Than War other favourites’ Anthroprophh it’s safe to say he did good.

Basic House (Stephen Bishop, boss of the intrepid Opal Tapes label) I did see. Unawares to most people (esp the couple stood right in front of him who were talking loudly, completely oblivious that his set was under way, through his first five minutes until they realised their mistake and slunk away much embarrassedly) he started in an understated fashion, but soon “livelied up” and started to get the attention he and his set deserved. His explorations into bass heavy electro-acoustics borrowed from the darker end of the ambient spectrum and could quite easily have verged on the repetitious, but didn’t as he chopped and changed between his expressive styles.

BristolThere’s nothing particularly “light” about Louder Than War stalwarts GNOD, who we took to Incubate a couple of years ago and featured in their own right at the start of the year. This was their third trip to Bristol this year, the first time clashing with Dinosaur Jr who I’d already committed myself to review and the second, ironically as they’re from Salford, when I was in Manchester. If ever there was a perfect fit for this venue it was GNOD. No one was under any misconception that they’d started their set as they jumped straight in with their trademark, engrossing, primordial, motorik psych-drone. Almost immediately we were under the bands spell. Finding it impossible to keep ourselves from reacting to the music, everyone was swaying or nodding in time. Unlike most drone artists, vocals are intrinsic to the GNOD sound, albeit vocals modified quite heavily so as to be unintelligible.

The GNOD whole is bleak, but also, somehow, euphoric. People talk about GNOD performances being a spiritual event and anyone who sees them play will know why. A wonderfully long set finally finished, leaving an exhausted audience in their wake. Noticeably they none of the band went anywhere, instead hanging around with the rest of us for Pharmakon. GNOD’s album, Chaudelande, has been one of the best releases of 2013, if you haven’t got it already rectify that post-haste. Why GNOD haven’t done for Rocket Recordings what label mates Goat did last year I really dunno!

Which brings us to headline act, Pharmakon. Somehow I completely missed Pharmakon’s album when it came out earlier in the year. I have no idea how – the person repping it sent me emails about it in May so I am left to either blame the sheer volume of stuff I get sent or myself for being seriously remiss. Probably the latter. In brief, and quoting from the press release that I’ve since dug out of my Mail client’s cache:

“Pharmakon [is] Margaret Chardiet [who] was born and raised in New York City. She has been making power electronics and death industrial music under the name Pharmakon for five years.”

More succinctly others have simply called her “the screamy lady” – and there’s no denying she’s that. In a short set she proceeded to utterly blow minds with a performance literally unlike any I’ve ever seen before – and I’ve seen a lot.

Shockingly intense and electrifyingly uncompromising, Pharmakon put on one of the most all-consuming and extreme 30 mins of my life. End of. Beginning modestly with just a few beats it was when she picked up the mic that shit really began. After a deep intake of breath, she fair emptied the contents of her lungs at once at an immense screeched volume, blasted straight at the poor mic. Then she did the same again. Soon she took to wandering around the audience, before dropping to her knees and crawling amongst us. Some poor guy got totally puzzled as she tried to crawl through his legs, only to end up with her head a tiny bit stuck. Eventually the penny dropped and he opened his legs fully. Funny though it was, it dispelled the intensity of the atmosphere a tad which was a shame. Not that that remained the case for long though. She then returned to behind her desk and picked up a black metal sheet, miked up, took off her bracelet and began hitting it. Hard. “Hard” like her whole set in fact. As percussive accompaniments go it was, like most other aspects of Pharmakon’s set, idiosyncratic, quirky and ear shatteringly extreme.

Pharmakon in the morgue video by Adam Reid

Other than those excursions into the crowd the only valid reaction during her set was to stand, gawp and maybe sway from side to side and from back to front a bit, but always with a mind devoid of thought and instead full of beats, screams and driven noise. Fearsome and mind-bendingly gnarly it was the apex of what one person can do with the minimum of kit and a microphone.

Despite being undeniably unique I was minded to think of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, whose Orphans is probably my favourite ever 2mins 28secs of music ever. If I had a time machine the first thing I’d do would be to send Pharmakon back to New York’s CBGB in 1977 so La Lunch and Pharmakon could hang out with each other and create god only knows what manner of fearsomely monstrous thing they could devise. And, yeah, I’d do that even though I suspect a collaboration between the two would result in music’s hapless soul being utterly destroyed. Forever.

A short but oh so intense set finished just shy of thirty minutes. I’m pretty sure no one was complaining at the brevity of it although – and if they had, the correct response to them would have been “you try doing that for more than ten minutes, let alone that long, doofus.” You could probably also tell them that the concision helps make what she does so exact, perfect even. As classic a case of ‘less is more’ as you can get.

Going back to that press release I mentioned:

Pharmakon describes her drive to make noise music as something akin to an exorcism where she is able to express her “deep-seated need, drive, urge and possession to reach other people and make them feel something in uncomfortable and confrontational ways.”

Missions accomplished – I felt ‘reached’, ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘confronted’.

A quick hat tip to Sofi Nowell of You’re Not Human for bringing Pharmakon to Bristol AND for showcasing her in such an amazing space. Sofi’s consistently putting on some of the best shows in Bristol and if you live there and aren’t regularly attending You’re Not Human events you’re so missing a trick.


Pharmakon doesn’t appear to ‘do’ the internets, but there’s a fan maintained Facebook page here you may wish to check out.

GNOD have a website here. They’re also on Facebook and Soundcloud.

Basic House is on Facebook and Soundcloud.

All words Guy Manchester. More words by Guy can be read here. He tweets as @guid0man & uses Tumblr.

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