XX Teens, Skream, and Von SüdenfedEdit this event
When I was at school a persistent suburban myth centred round the dubious claim that the science department, as a matter of routine, spiked their ethanol with hydrochloric acid. Obviously unsure whether the consequences of drinking pure alcohol would be dire enough as it is, this added poison would apparently act as a deterrent to any tramp as word of the acid spread among Cox Green's non-existent vagrant community. Why? The acid blinds.
Heaven stinks. Its battery of underground caverns reek with the stale scent of cheese and booze and sweat and vomit. Located under Charing Cross tube, the venue lurks like a decrepit, senseless gap in the earth; all us blind worms; noses blanked and zeroed by the stench, eyes straining in the pitch, ears full of the stress of Four Tet. Hebden stutters and ticks, exploding occasionally like the ruby-faced alcy/more on edge outside. Beats are cut, stamped and re-presented as his own before being broken again; ‘_Not Over Yet’ taken back to ground level, battered into unsettled dust.
The night is characterised by this kind of passive-aggressive tension. Something about tonight’s venue, with its seething entanglement of metal innards that line the ceiling, makes it the perfect setting for the traumatic events that follow. It suits xx Teens pretty well, too, actually. Their drummer has the thousand-yard stare of a city banker seconds before he chucks himself out a twelve-storey building, while co-front man Rich Cash is the model of inscrutability perched on his mic stand like a malevolent crow in wraparound shades. But in spite of the anti-rock immovability and a chops-free sensibility, parts of xx Teens just don’t seem to fit, flanked as they are by a balding Keef Richards in bassist Rich Nuvo, and blessed with a pair of vocalists clearly taking their cues from Richard Hell’s book of agitated art-rocker clichés. This isn’t a criticism, it only adds to their rag-tag appeal. The songs aren’t bad either - ‘Onkarawa’s elastic bass line is a marvel of the modern world, and a vaguely kraut-rocking new track sounds like a swarm of marauding killer robot bees with stingers set to orifices.
As the band ends and the active human presence leaves the stage, tension returns at the double with Skream. Tension not only in the time lapse between stricken snare, twinkling key and columnous bass; but also in the sound gap – the middle, treble, bass. The thing hangs together unsteadily, but Skream’s brain, mind and ears keep the frequency junket moving and together.
Much has been made of Von Sudenfed’s resemblance to LCD Soundsystem, but that’s only true when you think of them as the Grinch to James Murphy’s Santa Claus, lurking in the shadows while their crowd-pleasing cousin rains down melodic gifts on his grateful children. That said, Mark E Smith more accurately resembles a mid-melt Wicked Witch of the West in an outsize Burton jacket. Or a careworn Billy Casper devouring microphones to numb the pain of his recently-deceased kestrel. Let’s be clear about one thing, if that was any old scrote wandering onstage and mumbling incoherently into a mic with his back turned to the audience, he would be shown the exit in no uncertain terms. But this is Mark E Smith we’re talking about here, and somehow it just works. If you’ve ever wondered what Alan Vega sounds like in his head at one of his recent, bizarre live shows, this is it: ferocious, relentlessly low-end percussive and fascinating as imploding tower blocks, there’s never an inch of compromise in their music, even as euphoric new single ’The Rhinohead’ drops to an enthusiastic response.
It’s difficult to tell if recent reports of a frosting over in relations between band members carry any weight; Smith wanders on and offstage at will like an old man making serial trips to his potting shed at the end of the garden, at one point nearly taking a mixer with him as the mic lead catches up with him. But the only bad chemistry we can be sure of tonight is the music, fermenting in our bellies like an idiot cocktail of schoolroom chemicals swiped from teacher’s vaults.
Photo: Natalia Urazmetova
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