Foremans Bar, Nottingham
31 May, 2015
Vitriolic and raw, Louise Distras’ is an important protest voice for these times, as Amy Britton witnessed last week.
With passion, vitriol and dissent being such consistent muses for music and the arts in general, bad times can make for good music. That may seem a glib statement but as political dissatisfaction compels impassioned people to make their voices heard, it has been something of a pattern throughout pop culture history. And, let’s face it, these are not “good times”, as the nation wears the wounds of austerity cuts only set to get worse over the forthcoming years.
According The Guardian, Louise Distras is helping to “put punk and protest back into the mainstream.” While you can’t help but feel they have a slightly idealistic view of what “the mainstream,” consists of, it’s still reassuring to have figures like Distras standing up and turning the most traditional of forms – the protest song – into something raw, visceral, and fitting for the modern world.
The closing night of Distras and her band’s lengthy tour is here in the intimate settings of Foremans Bar, with stellar support. Proceedings are opened by Static Kill, as consistent and melodic as ever with their reggae-tinged, lyrically excellent acoustic punk – a few new songs thrown into the mix match up to the high standard that their audiences have come to expect.
Second on the bill is American singer-songwriter Bryan McPherson who, like most of the audience here tonight, I was completely unfamiliar with. His impact reverbs around the venue, however, as he begins as an (admittedly cut above) acoustic singer-songwriter in the form with which we are familiar and morphs into something more potent. He spits out protest poetry, arguing with corporations and the establishment (a line about starting riot on the White House lawn prompts a cheer from this roomful of Brits, probably largely tempted to start a riot on the doorstep of No.10) with a hugely impressive voice which carries around the venue even when he moves away from the microphone. Impassioned and impressive, everyone seems to be converted and I’ve no doubt he’ll end up a huge success revered by peers and fans and delighfully reviled by the establishment.
He sets the scene for the sharp, political edge of Distras herself, playing songs from her articulate debut album Dreams From The Factory Floor with an ultra-visceral edge; the sound more brusque than the venue had previously heard from her as she swaps the solo acoustic format for a more full-throttle sound, flanked by her rhythm section, Chema Zurita and Jamie Oliver.
The aesthetic of porcelain-skinned Distras evokes “alternative pin-up” models, but as she rips into a full-throttle version of Shades of Hate it’s obvious this is a woman who embodies Chrissie Hynde’s classic piece of advice to punk women – “remember it’s not fuck me, it’s fuck you!” And Distras’ “fuck you”, a political rather than personal one, is delivered with convincing vitriol in her amazingly raw voice. And what a voice it is; channelling a natural gravelly power and simmering with dissent.
An unfortunate early string break is quickly dealt with for her to power on through to Stand Strong Together, the title alone a defiant stance against the Thatcherite mentality we are still stuck with; the opening lyric about music keeping us together being perfect for this venue centered around impassioned music lovers.
The size of the 50-capacity venue means the sound seems to reverb against the walls; Distras plays guitar in the same style she sings, with raw energy, and the buzzes of volume that ring back after each song add new dimensions. Bullets hits hard like, well, bullets – and closer Black Skies leaves ripples long after the end of her set. But the sound never builds a wall between Distras and the audience (not that that would really be possible in the venue) instead keeping them as close as ever. This is what Distras is about; pro-people in both her politics and her musical attitude.
During the Thatcher years there were many voices of dissent in pop culture. These days, in spite of an apparent recycling of that era, there have been surprisingly few voices of dissatisfied rebellion; musicians too often milquetoast and the mainstream media questionable. We need people like Louise Distras and her stellar support acts more than ever. Tonight, with the energy and sharpness to match that vitriol, she has truly proved that.
Static Kill can be found on Facebook.
Photo by Holly Monroe Photography.