Audacious Art Experiment
Stuck between a camping warehouse and the Sheffield United away end, The Audacious Art Experiment’s little back room was fiercely noisy - yet strangely trancelike - throughout most of Friday 26 July.
Formed in Brighton, before migrating backwards up the M23 in 2011 and shifting around a bit, Sauna Youth have been heavily featured on Mark Riley’s 6Music radio show, as well as playing sets on his All Shook Up mini-TV programme. In a universe not unlike ours, all four members of the band also play in Monotony, but on different instruments. It’s this slightly furry, black-and-white, less considered world that has unexpectedly shone a light on Sauna Youth’s technicolour real life. Playing their second favourite instruments restricted them to creating a no-nonsense purity that is much enjoyed.
Growly guitars and small yet perfectly-formed melodies sound best in a room the size of a garage. Realities fused for 2 minutes and 12 seconds when Sauna Youth played ‘Monotony’ by Monotony and it was around this point in the night that the womb-like qualities of the venue created a strange effect.
Inspired by the garage environment, I found myself pushing and jumping across the room on the first note of ‘Transmitters’. Psychically linked to my two brothers, they had also began thrashing about giddily at exactly the same point. This did not go down as well as it could have.
I suppose it all depends on whether the small room was a garage or a womb. The vast majority of the audience seemed in utero and were angrily resenting outside intrusion, while we were lost in a growly garage on Sunset Strip circa 1964.
Obviously in tune with more than one reality at once, the band knew what to do. At once protecting the sanctity of their noise womb and those who had lost themselves in its warmth, and providing me with a funny story to tell, the lead singer walked into the crowd, mic in hand, and told me to stop. Stop dancing. Mid song.
A first for me, but there you go - the band are unique, they’re pan-dimensional, they can do what they like. It turns out later that we had barged quite heavily into Jen the singer’s friends at the front and she had intervened on their behalf.
Previously, the support acts had all contributed some very nice sounds. The Skipping Forecast were a nicely self-deprecating duo of Sheffield musicians using lots of effects that would have filled a much bigger room.
Elk were celebrating their Herd Songs album release and can bang out a good angular tune or two. Cantaloupe, Nottingham synth-pop spectacular, were also very enjoyable and, come to think of it, may have medicated the crowd for the headliner to come with their simple bliss music.
It takes a certain something to shut up a chatty Thursday evening, post-work, sold-out crowd within five seconds of stepping on stage. Tonight, that something is a combination of a voice and songwriting talent that makes very specific sadnesses feel universal, combined with a guitar that sounds like a four-track bedroom recording your pal's bashfully playing you. Or, when Katie Crutchfield (the woman who ‘is’ Waxahatchee) is joined on the tiny Harley stage by her backing musicians, like an extremely charming band practising in their parents' garage.
The lo-fi recordings of new album, Ivy Trip, are filled out considerably when Waxahatchee play live, most notably when Allison Crutchfield of indie rock act Swearin' starts harmonising with her twin sister. Drawing widely from her back catalogue, Crutchfield invites the crowd into her world, on her terms. With distorted chords, drums keeping a steady pulse which builds to each lyric's emotional climax, and short burst of song, those particular terms very much play into the garage band feel.
The scrappiness of the music stands in contrast to Crutchfield's carefully-chosen words and melodies. The trick, if that's the right word for such an upfront and honest musician, is to transport this hip Sheffield crowd in a combination bar-restaurant-burger joint to a practise space in the singer's native Alabama. The band mumble awkwardly to each other between each song, deciding what they're going to play next (a good chunk of second album, Cerulean Salt, gets an airing, along with the new stuff). Also very charming.
It's a trick Waxahatchee pull off in that infuriating 'they make it look easy, but only because it's all so lovely, warm and genuine' way. Crutchfield returns alone to the Harley's stage for the encore, performing three of her most gut-wrenching songs ('La Loose', 'Summer Of Love' and 'I Think I Love You') and leaving the audience to collect their jaws and broken hearts from the floor on the way out.
Sonic Pattern & Textility of Code
Compared to the algorave of a few months back, Sonic Pattern & The Textility of Code is an explicitly art house affair, with Paul ‘65dos’ Wolinski's recreation of cuts from his solo album, Full Bleed, providing the high watermark for sheer musicality. The (he)art of his performance is the (re)use of his musical sequences as source data for visualisation software, projected as digital dreamscapes on the back wall of the room. Dots, lines and geometric shapes pulse, strobe and spin in infinite post-Euclidean spaces, like the fever-dream of a William Gibson character forever cut off from cyberspace. The graphics themselves may not appear very sophisticated by comparison to, say, the nightclub backdrops of a decade ago, but to see such images being created from the ground up by musical code, rather than merely reacting to sound, is an exciting new step.
Theo Burt's Tiling Session is an altogether more theoretical exercise, one whose intent is regrettably not amenable to detailed discussion in a review of this length. But the aesthetic effect might be described as follows. Simple geometric shapes are gradually filled out or tiled with smaller shapes of varying colours, the appearance of each of which is accompanied by a musical tone which presumably relates to the size and colour of the tile in question. The outer shape, the selection of tiles used, and the order and speed with which the shape is filled with tiles is varied gradually through iteration after iteration of the process. This feels rather like watching time-lapse videos of someone recreating the computer user interfaces from Buck Rodgers to the accompaniment of the more experimental tracks from Aphex Twin's early albums – which is to say, more than a little exhausting and confusing, but not without some oddly revelatory undertones.
All out of word count, and I haven't even mentioned Keegan and McLean's live code-jamming (stark and clattery, but with moments of curious groove and grace), or Shaw and Bowen's attempts to deploy “cross-sensory performance to provide an expanded sense of the carboniferous”, which I missed due to arriving late. Ah, well. We reviewers are sure to be put out of work by algorithms eventually, but it looks like the musos are first in the firing line.
Paul Graham Raven
Steel City Rhythm
On 24 May, a bank holiday Sunday night at The Washington, Dubcentral and The Wibble Wobble put on a smashing reggae night.
Steel City Rhythm, Sheffield’s beloved, be-danced and recently rejuvenated eight-piece, opens the night with a long intro of thudding drums, viscid bass riffs and simple brass melodies. How to fit an elephant into a fridge? I see a pile of key instruments in a coffin-shaped rack – percussion, drums, trumpet and sax, bass, guitar – and all the players plus two MCs, all crammed into the Washy’s wee band box, taking up about three quarters of it.
It only takes about 30 seconds until someone’s twerking buttocks spill about a quarter of my pint and I realise that people are definitely up for dancing. The place is nicely packed, doesn’t yet smell of fart and I’ve definitely had a worse Moonshine. I am watching a motivated, obviously ‘puffy’ (reggae term for White English) outfit of talented and experienced groovers. SCR’s new singer Ben and stunning rap acrobat Stevie both wallow in their enjoyment for a responsive and dancing crowd. The lyrical messages meander from the old hippy dream via skilful urban poetry to politically conscious soul food for the responsible taxpayer. Carl Dubcats, the band’s new guitarist, looks exactly like the Hofmeister Bear and chucks out a guitar solo of surf-style semiquavers that sounds as misplaced as it is the coolest thing to do when you look like the Hofmeister Bear and play in a White English reggae band.
Now, how would one fit a giraffe into the fridge? This band somehow manages to balance on that particular tightrope. The long, vocal-less dub passages in most of their songs leave enough leeway for improvised grooving and effortlessness, but the catchy songwriting and organised execution then discloses a band that also has its concept and discipline.
The audience, ranging from Rastafarians to the usual Washy clientele, all seem to really enjoy a bit of Steel City Rhythm. For me, it’s usually the routine that makes a good groove. That is one good reason why this is a band worth supporting. The rhythm section is ace, and they’re entertaining to watch.
I’m still wondering how to fit the giraffe in with the elephant – or in other words, not as yet straight-from-the-fridge. But we’ll get there.