It’s a wet, dark Monday evening. You were up at the crack of dawn for work. It was a heavy weekend. You feel a cold coming on. What better way to revive yourself then than “a night of noise, drone and floppy disks” in a crumbling south London backstreet boozer courtesy of Diskette Etikette Rekords, a label that brings you the rejuvenating likes of grindcore, powerviolence and low bit exclusively via the medium of 3.5in floppy disk. Ask your dad about them.
Shuffling into the damp, dark environs on The Grosvenor’s backroom, the first thing we’re struck by is the tall, lithe figure of Sindre Bjerga awkwardly crouched down by an amplifier. While his pose may look uncomfortable, the expression on his face is anything but as he deftly flicks dials and switches with a look of both absorption and serenity upon his phizog.
The juxtaposition of the Norwegian’s figure and features matches that of his music, as he seemingly wrestles with sheets of spiteful static and frenetic frequencies, and yet somehow transcends the scree by dropping in crisp yet calming snippets of radio broadcasts. The dulcet tones are almost a form of peaceful protest against the malevolent dominance of the dirge. Sindre Bjerga, then - the Ghandi of drone? Zebra Mu, also known as Norwich-based sound artist Michael Ridge, cuts a far less striking figure as he gets up in front of the small but growing audience. However, once he has taken a seat at what looks like an operating table for consumer electronics, he quickly shows demonstrates that you don’t need to make much of an entrance when you have the power to melt minds, fry faces and annihilate eardrums at the tips of your fingers.
Ridge sets about concocting a soundscape that brings to mind a million digital seagulls being flamethrowered to death, before piling on bassy burps and the electronic apocalypse version of scratching, using nothing but the circuit-based detritus that lays before him. As the ears in the room begin to grow accustomed to the shock and awe, Ridge takes a handful of the chain that’s hanging about his neck and begins to grind it into his table of tricks. The dude now has a digital death metal band in the palm of his hand, and builds his brouhaha into a wall of noise that almost renders rational thought irrelevant. It’s not an easy listen by any means, but fuck me its invigorating.
Following that crescendo, the next act see the show lose its momentum somewhat. Star Turbine are a duo comprising of Sindre Bjerga and Danish multi-instrumentalist Claus Poulsen, and their sound is firmly located in the ambient end of drone. Bejerga dials down the underlying menace of his solo work here, stitching together instead an uneven rug of fidgety atmospherics and undulating electronica on to which Poulsen spreads wondering, reverb-laden guitar. There is no doubt something engagingly ghostly about what they do, while the vigorous, relatively anthemic climax to their set indicates they’re more than a one trick pony, but tonight they were something of a seahorse out of water. The same cannot be said of Sly & The Family Drone, who own the room before they’ve even begun playing, primarily because they take over half of it with an array of drums and benches occupied by the kind of mechanical mutants their brethren keep the company of. Sly describe what they do as “bacchanalian tribalism”, and that doesn’t seem to be a bad place to start painting a picture of their set tonight, which kicks off with one member seemingly operating some kind of switchboard with his head, rapidly followed by their frontman, so much as they have one, stripping down to his undercrackers quicker than you can say “Prince Harry”.
Sound wise, they take Battles’ ‘Atlas’ as a starting point, but use beats far less conventional as a foundation on which to build an unsteady sonic structure of distorted bass, shrieking, hissing electronics and heavily treated vocals that is unsettling yet hypnotic. Two members of Sly begin unravelling a tape, winding it around the crowd, which surrounds them, drawing us closer. As the clattering, steady beat and pulsating electronics begin to build, drums and cymbals are handed out to the audience, who are urged to join in. The compulsion to become part of a band that’s all audience, or an audience that’s all band, is too much even for this seasoned cynic, and we crash and smash our way to a triumphant and therapeutic finale that dances on the grave of any notion that avant garde music goes hand in hand with elitism.
So, the Diskette Eitikette etiquette is that there is no etiquette, as it turns out.