Zurich is stained, as Pavement once sang, and they were right. Sure, it’s lovely for tourism: there’s an attractive old church with the largest clock face in Europe whilst another hosts stunning painted windows by Belarusian modernist Marc Chagall; on a bright day the river sparkles past pavement cafes under a string of fascinating bridges; you’re never far from a Kirschtorte or a traditional brass band. Zurich is not the administrative capital of Switzerland, but it’s the capital in every other sense. A capital of capitalism and with a dark side – if the multimillion-franc-bonused Gnomes don’t make you shudder as the rest of Europe tightens its belt then the lingering smell of Holocaust-looted gold just might. Zurich is stained: filthy rich, conservative and one of the least rock’n’roll places in the world. But take the train just half an hour north out of the city, away from the scenic Alps and past the rather imposing single cooling tower of the GÃâ sgen Nuclear Power Plant, and you come to Aarau. As diametrically opposite to the high-end rat-race of Zurich as it is alphabetically separated, Aarau isn’t even in the Rough Guide. Heavens knows why – its beautiful traditional architecture is a step back in time, with a small 13th century castle overlooking narrow streets whose gables are intricately painted in a style unique to the city (if you can call a place with a population roughly the same as Burnage a city; technically it is, though). But we’re not here for the gables…
Half a mile from the centre is the sort of sprawling industrial and trading estate you find half a mile from the centre of any small town. We’re following the map we got off the internet: left at the petrol pumps, up the back road behind the Volvo compound – and there it is, a concrete hulk labelled KiFF. If there wasn’t a lone bouncer at the door we’d think they were taking the piss. KiFF, in that gloriously direct Germanic way, stands for Kultur in der Futterfabrik (Culture In The Fodder Factory) and does exactly what it says on the box. Lone bouncer is possibly the politest we have ever encountered, explaining to us that the live show is not open yet but we can go down and have a drink in the silo. The silo is just that – a bar, a few chairs and a football table notwithstanding. KiFF has been in operation for two decades now, but like so many continental European venues we’ve visited in old factories, power stations and wartime bunkers, it retains a lot of original features and thus an inherent character notably absent from a lot of the UK’s purpose-built and near-identikit music venues.
And here – in one of the richest countries in the world, where it costs one and a half francs (95 bloody pence!!) to use the public loo on the station, and political billboards depicting an Alpine dairy cow in a guillotine equate raising tax a bit with actual destruction of the nation – is a non-profit arts co-operative. Live music and DJ nights are their main operation, but there’s also space for alternative theatre (we’re intrigued by the poster for “Spl”Â°tterlitheater, the bloody glove puppetry for adult children”), performing arts and literature events – and studio space for around 20 visual artists in the old factory towers. As we walk up the iron stairs to the live performance space, people are working in offices producing posters and flyers – all part of the 150-strong team of volunteers who do everything from sifting through unsigned bands’ demos and contacting agencies to book touring acts ti running the in-house catering, curating the art galleries and even carrying out building maintenance. In return for their time, the KiFF “activists”, as they’re called, are granted free access to all the centre’s productions. And with the price of gig tickets here being what it is (up-and-coming American post-rock act Caspian, for instance, recently played Manchester’s Ruby Lounge as support band to God Is An Astronaut all for a tenner; here as a headline act it’s 15 francs (ÃÂ£12)) this is a pretty cool arrangement if you love music. The programme of which is spectacularly diverse, with Balkan folk, drum’n’bass and hip-hop rubbing shoulders with indie, rock and metal. This is the sort of thing you expect in liberal countries like Holland, or the UK’s more forward-thinking venues such as Salford’s Islington Mill.
The live space is fantastic, an upper floor of the building opened up into a 500-ish capacity venue with the stage concealed, old-school style, behind black curtains until each band is ready to go. Tonight’s headliner is Sheffield’s collision of post-rock, techno and progressive metal that is 65daysofstatic, and they’ve brought a tour support with them, but first on is a local band from nearby Basel called Aie ÃÂa Gicle who present a damn fine collision of 90s alt-rock influences from Sonic Youth to Pavement, all wrapped up into pacy little bounce-along noisepop tunes. This is the joy of going to gigs abroad – the internet may well have opened the world’s music scene up to anyone with enough time and a broadband connection but just as Manchester is full of great bands whose financial and logistical situation means they rarely play outside of north-west England, I’d probably never have heard of Aie ÃÂa Gicle if I hadn’t been here. My holiday cash isn’t stretching as far as the merch table tonight but back home I’ll be ordering their EP come next payday.
Tour support Civil Civic are the product of an online meeting between London-based Australian Aaron Cupples and Barcelona resident Ben Green, who develop their twisting Battles-like instrumental electro-prog pieces across the wires before visiting each other to complete the tracks and occasionally playing some live dates. The centrepiece of their stage set-up is a collection of laptops, synths and a big box with lights on the front with which they digitally manipulate, live and in real-time, the sounds coming from their guitar and bass as well as some prepared backing tracks and samples. In every possible way it seems like the music of the future, and this feels like such an appropriate place to experience it. The bubble burst some time ago on traditional record labels for all but the very fortunate, and some commentators are already predicting that the live music boom of recent years has peaked. As a new wave of DIY music, made and promoted for the love of it (and indeed written about largely in places like this very website), spreads out from under the stranglehold of sterile Academies and piss-taking sell-50-tickets-to-your-mates-or-you’re-not-playing hellholes places like this are becoming more and more important. It’s only a trip to the bar for a heart-stopping 7 franc (ÃÂ£5) beer (still cheaper than most pubs and bars in the country) that reminds us we’re in Switzerland: the Gnomes of Zurich with their zillion-figure hedge-funds seem a hell of a lot further than half an hour’s train ride away.
I’ve seen 65daysofstatic a lot of times. I’ve watched them barely contained in the dirty old Dry Bar basement, seen them blow the minds of a largely unwitting crowd at the generally quite musically conservative Hop Farm festival, felt them almost blowing the walls out of Camden Koko – but this is something else. This old animal feed factory on an industrial estate in a city nobody’s even heard of just happens to boast one of the best sound systems I’ve ever heard for a club of this size. The band know they sound immense, the crowd – mostly teenagers and twentysomethings with a sprinkling of piercings and tattoos – are more than enthusiastic, and the feedback loop takes everything higher. How would you describe 65daysofstatic to someone who hadn’t heard them? I have no idea. They sound like nobody else. Warped techno punctuated with metallic guitar distortion; spirals of entwined guitar, piano fights (the latter being one of their track titles, and it sounds exactly as it promises) and apocalyptic drumming. With four peerless albums under their belt since 2004 they have evaded the mainstream press back home for the most part: most journalists don’t like music they can’t stick into neat little boxes. They’re as heavy as Oceansize and as danceable as Delphic; as atmospheric as Mogwai and as subtle as the xx – and tonight they are the best I’ve seen them.
It’s sometime after midnight round the back of the Volvo compound. Well-behaved Swiss youth step outside for a cigarette or to their cars, whilst others are still coming in for a party that’ll go on til four – no neighbours, you see, unless you count the petrol station. The bouncer smiles, nods a goodbye to us as he shares a cigarette with a tattooed kid. One day all music venues will be like this.