Arabrot, Poino, Manatees.
Bristol, Stag and Hound,
22nd Feb 2012
I have a variation of the proverb “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” that I sometimes use. It came to mind as I was attending this Arabrot show. It goes something like this: “You can lead a person to good music but you’ll be fucked if you make the buggers go listen to it”.
To elaborate, Arabrot, as I’m sure most LTW readers will know, stormed the music presses review section’s last year with their Solar Anas album (Stool Pigion 5/5 DIS 9/10 NME 8/10 for instance) & the album seemed to feature in everyone’s end of year list. They’ve also had glowing endorsements from most of the press, not least here in Louder Than War. And yet here I was at an Arabrot gig in Bristol, one of the UK’s foremost music-centric cities, with one of the scantiest audiences I’ve seen at a gig here for ages. I estimated there to be roughly 20 paying audience members. And it was only a bloody fiver in. Despite the fact that the gig was in one of Bristol’s smaller venue’s, The Stag & Hounds, (a classic example of a “room in a pub” type venue) the place felt pretty empty.
And yes, I know experience should have by now taught me that I probably shouldn’t expect people to come out to see Louder Than War ‘darling’s’ such as Arabrot on a night when NME ‘darling’s’ The Kaiser Chiefs are in town, but sadly, being a miserable eternal optimist, I do. After all, it only needed roughly 100 more people out of the cities 421300 population to come down to have had the place ‘heaving’. Not much to expect considering Arabrot are one of the world’s topmost noiserock bands is it? I tell ya, if I’d been able to get my hands on the editorial office of the Bristol Evening Post overnight then I can pretty much guarantee you the next day’s paper would’ve lead with the headline:
“Bristol Lets Itself Down In Failing To Attend Amazingly Good Show Shocker….”.
But enough of trying to think up clever ways of saying “this was a poorly attended show which is a shame”.
Tonight was actually much more than just an Arabrot gig. Also on the bill were the excellent The Manatee’s from Carlisle & the even better Poino. In fact, if I’m honest, Poino were the primary reason for my being at this gig.
I think I can just about get away with saying that Manatees have hints of progginess about them. Obviously ‘prog’ itself is a really wide genre & Manatees are certainly at one of the furthermost ends of it, the end I refer to as “the right end”. It’s the end that bands who tend towards the dark, grinding & experimental inhabit. Like a lot of bands of their ilk they have the hypnotic thing off pat and it’s hard to fail to get drawn into their sound when confronted with it live. Not exclusivly original, granted, but having said that there were forays into more interesting territory & I’d happily go see them in there own right.
I recently saw Andy Kershaw on tour to promote his autobiography. He was asked why he turned away from the kind of music that was his original first love (The Clash, Gang Of Four, Bob Dylan etc) & got interested in ‘World Music’. He replied along the lines of “There’s only so much you can do with just guitars, drums & vocals & no one’s doing anything different anymore”. Had I access to a time machine I’d consider going back there, standing up & heckling with “What about Poino”? Because Poino ARE different. Different to anything else I’ve heard anyway. Admittedly they soup up their ‘guitars, drums & vocals’ with quite a lot in the way of effects pedals, circuit boards & other such gubbins, through which they push & mangle their sound, but essentially they’re just a rock band. Yeah, a rock band gone really really really feral, but a rock band all the same.
They make for one of the most exciting, complex live experiences I’ve seen for some time, lilting between the thunderously balistic and the wildly crazed then straying into occasional quieter more nuanced territory. I have to admit though, being a sucker for gimmicks, that the highlight of the set for me was probably when lead singer / guitar player Gaverick de Vis balanced his guitar on his face, strings downwards, then rather than play them with his tongue or teeth (both of which things have been done right?) he just shouted very loadly at the strings creating not only one of the weirder sights I’ve ever seen at a show but also one of the weirder sounds I’ve ever heard at a show.
There was an elongated interlude before Arabrot started. As they were getting ready Kjetil Nernes got an electric shock off the mike & seemed really reluctant to carry on till it was sorted. During the holdup some boarish besuited oafs blagged their way into the venue. One of them trod on my foot quite heavily which was one of the worst experiences of my life as he’d just eaten a pickled egg. Not pleasant & not cool. Anyway, I didn’t really mind coz I knew I was about to enjoy the spectacle of seeing these geezers introduced to the full force of Ã¢ËÅ¡Ãârabrot’s filthy unhinged industrial noise rock & I wasn’t expecting them to like it.
And you know what? I completely forgot about the suits once Arabrot started. Kicking myself now of course, but frankly when flying in the face of the full Arabrot maelstrom your mind isn’t really capable of turning itself to more commonplace matters such as whether the pickled egg brigade are cowering in the far corner of the room or not.
They played an inevitably brilliant set anyway, full of the kind of stark thunderous menace they’re known for. If I hadn’t already been converted to the band by Solar Anus this would have done it for me. The drumming is intrinsic to the Ã¢ËÅ¡Ãârabrot sound, something that comes across especially when watching them live. The 3rd member of Ã¢ËÅ¡Ãârabrot (who only joins them on tours) added some extra oomph in the drum department on occasions, despite primarily being there as a bass player. Quite a few drumsticks broke during their set, mostly spiking off in random directions, prompting at least one person to mutter under his breath “Careful, you could have someone’s eye out with that”. Arabrot’s elemental, brutal, powerful music speaks to your inner soul. Your dark twisted inner soul. And if you didn’t realsie you had a dark twisted inner soul Arabrot will help you understand that you have. Quite a powerful experience and one I can imagine Michael Gira would’ve approved of. Indeed, the only thing I can imagine that could have improved it would’ve been if their sound were put through the Swans p.a. circa the Raping A Slave era.
Which brings us back to where we started, where the fuck was everyone? Is this just a Bristol thing? Did anyone go to any of the other dates on the tour? If so leave a comment below, let us know how well it was attended where you were. I find it hard to believe the market isn’t there for Arabrot in Bristol. A couple of days later I was at what was styled a ‘fastcore minifest’ featuring bands from such genres as sludgecore, noiseviolence, grindcore & thrash. The venue was proper popping with punters, all of whom I’m sure would have gotten off on Ã¢ËÅ¡Ãârabrot tonight and yet I saw none of the same faces at either of the two events. I find it infuriating that, despite everyone having a whole world of music at their fingertips ‘scenes’ are more fractured & more self contained than ever before. I’m sure there are many factors involved in this, such as Facebook ‘grouping’ us all off into our little cliques, but whatever the reasons it still strikes me as sad.
Anyway, not wanting to end on a negative note I’ll end on this one: gig of the year so far.