Oh boy, what an evening.

In hopes that it will put my experience into perspective, I’m going to start this review with a little anecdote. Back when I was a teenager, as part of my enduring interest in all things musical, I had the habit of browsing lots of websites on bands, genres, and the like. One day, I drifted and found a comical article on Something Awful called ‘Your Genre Sucks’, which discussed the term ‘post’ when applied to certain types of music. As ‘Dr. David Thorpe’ says: ‘I think I’ve come up with a new rule: basically, adding “post” to a style of music just means “with all the fun taken out of it”’ [1]. Taking this amusing statement with more than a grain of salt, I realized that there might be some hidden truth to it, albeit one which has to be framed quite differently: the idea of ‘post’ implies that, instead of outwardly-directed energy and explosive performances, musicians prefer to express their emotions through introversion and introspection, seeking refuge inside the self. Thus, genres like post-punk and post-rock will tend to be more personal and more reflective, both lyrically and sonically.

With no clear idea of what to expect of these three groups, the gig made me think twice about how we should use this much-circulated term of ‘post’. After the concert, I asked myself: should we be dogmatic when classifying and judging bands, especially in the case of very young acts? Is it that easy to use labels? The answer to both questions is a resounding ‘NO’, and the reasoning behind it is simple: you will come across artists who are hard to classify and refuse to fit stereotypes, reminding us of the limits of language when attempting to categorize music.

Opening act Space Church was, to put it bluntly, an oddity. Beginning their set with the sound of chimes, bass harmonics, and the softly spoken words of guitarist Phil Ramone, they initially generated a bit of confusion in the audience, as some weren’t even sure if the members are tuning their instruments or actually playing. They’re a good example of a band which partially redefines the concept of post-rock. They love minimalist guitar riffs, unorthodox time signatures (3/4 and 7/8, anyone?), and their songs have a narrative structure which reminds me of Slint and Tortoise, but that’s where the similarities end. Most of the time, Phil Ramone doesn’t sing at all, preferring to tell stories in a speaking voice, as if he was reading a book. Pat Ramone’s drums and Dan Ramone’s bass lines lurch forward, creating a strange psychedelic groove that adds colour to the fractured and obscure lyrics. Frequently, the band explores stoner and noise rock territory, the groove is interrupted, and the crescendos and guitar effects take over. An alienating experience for sure, as demonstrated by the lukewarm applauses at the end of the set, but I was drawn to their deconstructionist approach all the way through.

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In comparison, the Bristol quartet Scarlet Rascal offered a different take on the same problem. Their dark, brooding interpretation of post-punk is pretty conventional in terms of structure and lyrical content, but somehow it manages to distort the term significantly. The wide-eyed, sinister stare of frontman Luke Brookes really conveys a sense of estrangement and isolation, and when he sings ‘I am the one and only/Master of all unholy’, ‘I don’t wanna go outside’, or ‘I guess I’m strange’, you can’t help but believe him. Yet the group, as a unit, is a very eclectic beast: Richard Clarke makes his guitar wail, playing ominous Eastern scales; sometimes, he launches sharp bursts of feedback or strums mind-boggling chord progressions with the aid of the tremolo bar. All this time, the rhythm section of bassist James Stockhausen and drummer Maya Indelicato keeps functioning like the eye of the storm, calm but unyielding. When Brookes joins Clarke for some loud guitar shredding at the end of almost every song, it becomes obvious that Scarlet Rascal’s post-punk owes as much debt to The Velvet Underground’s dissonant instrumental sections on White Light/White Heat or Sonic Youth’s noise rock as it does to Joy Division, Talking Heads or Television.

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And just when I thought that things couldn’t get more interesting or extreme, headliners Idles provided the final surprise of the night. Labelled as ‘unlistenable post-punk’ or something to that effect, Idles are, in fact, a mix of classic and hardcore punk which is as socially and politically conscious as it is savage. Perpetually angry but articulate, lead singer Joe Talbot is like Johnny Rotten plus Bad Brains on steroids, if that even makes sense. Full of sarcasm, his songs give a voice to the voiceless, furiously attacking religion, institutions, and traditional society alike. Whether they’re mockingly chanting ‘Praise the Lord!’, talking about doing drugs in public spaces, asking us why we don’t like reggae, or simply shouting ‘AY-YA-YA-YA-YAH!’, Talbot and company are ferocious in both concept and execution, and their sonic assaults have nothing to do with introversion or quiet lyricism. His disgust for social norms is best represented by the brutal line: ‘I’d rather cut my nose off to spite my face!’. By the time this set was in full swing, the audience had grown immensely, and the Boileroom was bursting with excitement and energy: people were headbanging, joining mosh pits, or crowd surfing; in short, collectively celebrating non-conformism.

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If you’re the squeamish type, are easily offended, or have extremely sensitive ears, it’s probably best to stay away and remain in your comfort zone. However, if you’re a weirdo like me with a strong interest in unusual and adventurous music, then you should definitely check out these bands. The revelation here is that we have to be critical and flexible when evaluating contemporary rock music, and using rigid terms formulated in the 80s and 90s amounts to unnecessary pigeonholing. In a situation in which the blending of various subgenres presents us with new possibilities, letting the music speak for itself before making any judgement is a better option. Other than that, of course, it’s all about the dirty fun and the captivating pulse of the live act. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but I honestly don’t care.

 

Text by Vlad Nicu

Picture research by Vlad Nice and Donna Darafshian; featured image taken from Idle’s official Facebook page.

References:

[1] http://www.somethingawful.com/your-band-sucks/your-genre-sucks/, accessed 15 March 2017.