On paper there was just so much that could go wrong with this gig. The promoters in question, with their attendant air of mild chaos and risk of overrun. The number of bands on the bill, and their promised 50 minute sets, added to the possibility of us all missing our last trains home. It was at the still new CAMP Basement venue, one which possibly has yet to bed in both organisationally and acoustically. The wildly overoptimistic changeover times between bands which could either exacerbate the timing and/or sound problems. And, even worse, the venue was in Old Street. Hipster central. In “Movember” too. Argh.
The start didn’t fill me with much hope, with us being kept outside in the pissing rain for a good twenty minutes while, well, god only knows why. I had my doubts about opening act Hype Williams too: everything I’ve read about them, from naming themselves after a hip-hop video director, to the assumed names, to the deliberately irritating interviews, to the titles of their EPs (“Do Roids and Kill E’rything”), suggested hyped-up hipster try-hards. Actually, after a shaky, feedback-riddled start, during which I actually thought they might end up beating each other to death with mic stands, they were very good indeed. They stood either side of a table perched very precariously on the edge of the stage, each with a selection of 80s synths, trading sounds and vocals. Their woozy and defiantly dated preset synth sounds took in screwed down R&B and dub basslines (there was a bit of melodica at one point too), as well as more industrial electro rhythms, to create something that sounded – despite the familiarity of the source material – as somehow fresher than most of this sort of thing. Whatever this sort of thing is called.
Zun Zun Egui are a good and talented band, and if you haven’t seen them, I highly recommend you do. However if you’ve seen them a few times, as I now have, a fifty minute set is a little on the long side. While their mix of post-punk, tropicalia and Congotronics is pretty clever (and I certainly can’t think of anyone else doing it, never mind doing it as well), I felt last night that I’d “got” it quite early in the set. The constant thumb piano-like one or two note guitar solos, the scratchy Devo-esque rhythms, the frantic Latin-sounding vocals, the repeated (and ever so slightly tiresome) exhortations to dance somehow all merged into one very long, very loud but yet somewhat indistinct blur.
Huge handlebar moustache, trucker cap, tshirt with palm trees on it…it turned out that the hipster I was fearing in the opening paragraph was none other than Sun Araw’s Cameron Stallones. He could have pedalled into the City Arts And Music Project upstairs on his fixed gear bike and ordered a flat white and no-one would have batted an eyelid. After a clearly rushed and unfinished setup period, he began crashing out huge guitar riffs, still clearly having trouble hearing what the hell it was he was doing. It was a long way from the sound of his On Patrol double LP on Not Not Fun, a heavy record in very different ways; with its wide open sun-kissed spaces, fuzzy textures, huge bass, and hypnotic percussion, it got itself into some very strange and very deep places indeed. Even on a track like “Ma Holo” from that record, this set always felt focused and faster, perhaps time-pressured even; it was as if, unusually, it was only on record and not on stage that they could really stretch out. No twenty minute ambient kosmische epics here. This was more like the murky (intentionally or otherwise) brew of Heavy Deeds, whose title track they played tonight, and whose snaking and room-shaking dub-like bassline was one of the evening’s high points. With the clock ticking towards last tube, and the crowd rapidly thinning, they rolled into a version of Neil Young’s “Barstool Blues”, lyrics about fog and sun, fast minds and slow conversations, epitomising some of the dichotomies at the heart of this project. While this was by no means the disaster it could have been, I can’t help but feel that somewhere in tonight there was a really great gig trying to get out. Argh, again.