Sunday, 27 April 2008

Grindcore afternoon featuring Empty Feeling/Onanizer/Krupskaya/Wojczech @ The Band Stand, Hanley. April 26th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Attracted to this gig by my total lack of knowledge as far as the true nature of ‘grindcore’ is concerned, I cast aside any preconceived notions and went along for some education in these matters.

Empty Feeling are from the Czech Republic and about as heavy as doom metal, as I understand its correct title to be, gets; although it wouldn’t surprise me if there is a heavier band out there, but I’ve yet to meet it. The true grindcorers were yet to come. It struck me whilst listening to the incoherent rasping vocals that is synonymous with this type of music that it really doesn’t matter where the band hails from as nobody can understand a word of the vocals anyway. Which, I suppose, much in the way of silent movies, gives it licence to be played and understood practically anywhere; to those who want to listen to it that is – but I digress. Empty Feeling are tight, extremely powerful in a crunchingly coordinated way, and although this music is taken deadly seriously by its followers, display a welcoming sense of humour as they exchanged what appeared to be light-hearted banter between numbers. Would have a been a bit better if I could have understood it, but why pick holes? The small room filled with the pungent incense of a band that has been on the road for some time, the dreadlocked singer flung himself about all over the place as the 5-piece band thundered out their deafening wares with admirable dexterity. Whether one likes this music or not, these musos know their stuff. The twin leads – one nimbly fingering an unusual 7-stringer, offered some tasty licks and the whole band played with the devotion that purveyors of this particular sound seem to possess in spades. As a footnote, the vocalist was wearing a T-shirt that bore the inscription; ‘How’s God? – She’s Black’. I found that rather cool.

I couldn’t help but wonder if next band Onanizer, also from the Czech Republic and displaying equally little fluency in English had any real idea of what ‘onanizer’ actually means. An ‘onanist’ being a term for one who masturbates, I suppose an onanizer could be a term for one who inspires one to masturbate; which Onanizer most certainly do not; but I digress once again. Onanizer’s music is distinquishable from the last band in that they boast two lead singers; or rather one who shouts and one who screams. They also play extremely short songs, if that’s what they could be called. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, but songs are sung, and the contributions of the two frontmen here in no way could be described as singing. But then again, perhaps I’m being needlessly pedantic; as I said earlier, such vocals appear to be an essential ingredient of this genre and if they actually sung, I suppose, it wouldn’t be doom metal/grindcore - but I digress yet again. Estimating that the longest of the songs lasted about a minute and the shortest about 15 seconds, I soon lost count of the numbers actually performed. Onanizer seemed very aware of the quirkiness of what they were doing and at one point they revelled in producing perfectly coordinated single note crunchs with no apparently definable timing in between. Clever stuff presumably intended to confuse and mislead; which indeed it did. Despite the head-scratching bewilderment at times, I must admit I found myself very entertained.

The absolute grindcore in definition, as I now understand it to be, began with Krupskaya, the only English band on the bill. Not being too far removed from avant-garde jazz, the roots of this sort of music began way back in the 1950s with the likes of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker; their meandering, but mind-blowing improvisational skills taking the concept of jazz to dizzying heights. Although this form of music went up many avenues, by the time the 1970s arrived, experimentalists like Keith Tippett and Robert Wyatt had taken it even further, their music taking on an air of chaos that much reminded me of where grindcore stands at today. It would seem that the natural progression of a certain branch of what was once plain old ‘heavy metal’ has gone up the the same avenue as jazz once went, except with different instruments. Once this is understood, grindcore becomes, for the uninitiated, much easier to understand and therefore enjoy - apologies for yet more digression, but in this case I feel it necessary. Krupskaya’s music, as heavy as it gets, appears to meander wildly all over the place, but a close listener would discern that it is actually meticulously rehearsed. The drummer is technically highly skilled and his coordination with the flowing basswork is spot-on. The true chaos is in the feedback oriented guitarwork and screechingly incomprehensible vocals. Yet, if you listen closely, it musically all makes sense. If one understands avant-garde jazz, then they are capable of understanding grindcore. Once I grasped where they were at, I enjoyed Krupskaya immensely.

Headliners Wojczech, from Germany, are much of the same ilk, except they allow themselves a little occasional order in the form of some nice juicy riffing that had the mainly black T-shirted audience rocking in rhythm to the heady beat. The shouting, screaming vocals were shared by the bouncing, bounding frontman and the seated bass player, who has obviously broken something vital in the leg region. The vocal exchanges here were a bit different in that some of the noises produced were reminiscent of things as diverse as roaring beasts and wailing lost souls; indeed, some of the utterances vaguely resembled ships’ foghorns. A standard 4-piece, the musicianship was first-class and like all the bands before them, remarkably well-drilled. Unless one is very familiar with them, it is very difficult to pinpoint numbers of this nature; but one of their compositions appeared to have lifted its juddering introduction directly from television’s Dr Who theme; but what the hell; It sounded great.

A very different way to spend a Saturday afternoon and congratulations to The Band Stand for putting it on. Grindcore is as cool as it gets.

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