LegPuppy and Dismembered Sound Booth – The Victoria – October 31st 2019

I’ve never much celebrated Halloween. Maybe that’s a generational thing? I can’t recall dressing up as a scene from a nightmare and knocking on doors asking for Haribo chews in my youth. I guess for some the thrill of putting on a witches costume, plastering your face in errant make-up and taking pictures of yourself to add to your favourite social media account is too strong a pull. 

Thank goodness that London still has the free gig scene to dip into instead if Halloween does not float your boat. And sometimes those gigs are altogether stranger than the main event.

Up at the Victoria in Dalston, there are more than your fair share of zombies walking around, more than you’d get on a typical Thursday. I’m here at one of my favourite London venues for LegPuppy’s Halloween extravaganza. So weird and theatrically out-there are Legpuppy that every day is arguably Halloween for this oddball art collaboration.

But before LegPuppy do their thing, I arrive in time to catch Dismembered Sound Booth’s delightful set of off-kilter revolutionary electro-pop. There are four of them and the two up front who mostly sing have painted their faces as a nod to the night’s celebrations. “You’re so fucking beautiful you make me sick”, they all sing on repeat as a video jumps through all sorts of image on the screen behind. 

It doesn’t take me long to realise that I love what Dismembered Sound Booth are creating here. They rant against Hackney trendies, the sadness of alcoholism and celebrity culture, never standing still for long enough to be pigeon-holed. It’s as if Jarvis Cocker formed a group from the remnants of The Shamen, Happy Mondays and Chumbawumba and convinced all that they should perform like Public Service Broadcasting. It’s playful and sinister in equal measure. We all nod at the wisdom of lines like ‘I choose chemicals to make me more conversational’ and delight as the two who take singing duties feed each other fake drinks. It’s doesn’t all make sense – and neither should it. Dismembered Sound Booth end with ‘The Fuck Show’ and we stand gobsmacked. 

 

But that feeling of joyous bewilderment gets higher still when LegPuppy take to the stage. Instrument wise, it’s set up like a DJ set. A man in a leather gimp mask stands behind the box of beats orchestrating proceedings whilst all manner of theatrical things occur around. A spurned bride, dressed to resemble a Tim Burton character slowly strokes a puppy (of the cuddly toy variety) whilst a menacing predator strolls around. Behind both is LegPuppy’s Bez – a crazy dancer who bounces around whilst being buggered by an inflatable ghost. It’s truly something else. 

Music wise, LegPuppy serve up some pretty dark, industrial fodder. Lyrically, the angry tone is often lightened by the humour. ‘Selfie stick, narcissistic prick’ runs the chant as the hypnotic rhythm reels you in. There’s points being made and points being scored as the performance builds to a cacophonous convulsion. It’s all simply wondrous.

Another band follow but they seemed blessed with an ounce of normality and after the wild scenes from the two acts I’ve seen tonight my eyes can take no more. I pass ghouls and ghosts, witches and wizards on the wander home but it all seems tame in comparison to the night I’ve had.

Frauds, Rope and Sans – The Victoria – September 19th 2019

Whilst others sit at home and watch the deliberations about the Mercury music prize, (best shortlist for many a year despite The 1975 inclusion) I do what I know and head to a gig. It’s back up to one of my favourite venues in this town, the Victoria in Dalston, for a night of noise from three bands who are new to me. 

Frauds are the headliners. They justify that billing by being by far the most entertaining of the trio on show. They’re a duo, madcap scientists whipping up punky potions for our aural delight. Mike stands centre stage, monk-cut apparent, slinging his guitar through all sorts of pedals to make quite a cacophony of splintering sound whilst Chris drums in frenzied fashion behind. Both take turns to sing. 

You can’t always make out what they’re singing about but you get the sense that Frauds are comfortable with the odd. Whether they’re bouncing on trampolines or questioning our acceptance of fake news, they do so sharing a positive vibe. And the healthily-sized fan base that have gathered respond by jumping into a vibrant mosh-pit. 

Nobody moshes for Rope, the second band of the night. That’s because their brand of slightly sludgey stoner psychedelia doesn’t best lend itself to such behaviour. They’re at their most productive when they enter into spaced-out instrumental prog jams but don’t quite feel the finished article to me as yet. Their keyboard/slide guitar player has already pissed me off before they take to the stage by displaying all sorts of off-stage ‘look at me’ arrogance so they have much to do by way of reparations. And when said chap arrogantly hushes the crowd mid-song, my ridiculously petty and judgemental attitudes are further confirmed. In Paisley shirt, Rope’s lead singer tells us that he ‘can show you how to be a real man’. I’m still waiting.

Sans open the night. Without warning and without melody, they offer an off-kilter noise punk that at times veers into angry jazz. It’s like listening to Beefheart in a dentists chair. Their singer hunches his shoulders and emits an anguished scream whilst bassist and drummer look on despairingly. “Why does it sting when I piss?“, they might howl confirming that they probably need to get to a medical practitioner pronto.

News filters through that Dave’s Psychodrama has won the Mercury. It’s fair to say that  it’ll never become a favourite of mine though I can certainly appreciate the talent and art involved in its production. And that’s probably also how I feel about tonight at the Victoria. Each band has entertained even if it’s not entirely been up my street. 

Crying High, Vanity Fairy and Aunt Lucy – Victoria Dalston – May 28th 2019

I very nearly didn’t go out. A tiring day at work and a quick pint on my meander home meant that I had to summon up all sorts of reserve energy to head to the Victoria in Dalston. I can’t underplay how glad I am that I did. This was a night to cherish. 

The Victoria will always have a space in my heart. It was here, just a few months ago, that I began this ridiculously rewarding schedule of night-time London gigs. I’ve not been back since but probably should have. The friendly, accessible vibe remains. 

I plump for food (an adequate Chicken burger) whilst the first act plays. Unlike at most other gigs, there are no sheets pinned to walls here with set-times on so it’s anybody’s guess who is on. I’ve forgotten to charge my phone so can’t make the brief memory-prompt notes that I’m typically prone to. 

I think, though can’t be sure, that the first act I see is Aunt Lucy. A newcomer on the scene judging by comments they make (“I wrote this last week”) they seem well supported by friends and family. It’s disco-sludge (not in a bad way) presented by a person who slithers around the stage in a black bin-bag of a catsuit. The lyrics sound funny; comical tales of everyday partying wrapped up in a cautious charm. Definitely one to watch both tonight and into the new-romantic future.

Memorials of Distinction are the promoters of tonight’s show. I’m pretty sure I’ve not been to one of their gigs before but, way before the evening ends, I make a note to check out more. They’ve evidently got an eye for the theatrical; each of tonight’s act know the value of performance and have thought about their stagecraft. This feels like an emerging scene of arty glamour and I want in.

And that promoter ethos more than holds true for Vanity Fairy, the sub headliner. I’m captivated from the off and can barely remove my gaze. Dressed in vintage white fairy robes, she’s a full-size version of the thing that fantasists might find at the bottom of their gardens. An exquisite crocheted bonnet plays host to knitted fruit; the gown ebbs and flows as Vanity poses around the stage. It’s all done with backing tape which is fine but you also wonder how epic this could be with fully-choreographed band. Vocally, there’s more than a dash of Kate Bush involved; presence wise, it’s Madonna when she was good. More than anything, this porcelain doll, face painted white with rosy cheeks, stays on the right side of artistic fun. And I love it.

 

The headliner, Crying High, is from Toronto. I get early sense that this might be equally theatrical to what’s gone before when, from a merch desk at the back of the hall, two loud girls encourage adoption of the ‘free’ merch on offer. There are cardboard face-masks of Crying High (who is one person) with elasticated cord attached; we’re encouraged to wear these on the back of our heads. I take one along with a tiny comic book and a postcard. 

Crying High comes to the stage with an electric guitar wrapped across his shoulders. He proceeds to play a sad country tune of longing that’s interspersed with a whistled chorus. The voice, strong and powerful, is a bit Hawksley Workman (God, how I loved his live show). This isn’t the slowed-down disco the PR promised but it’s entertaining all the same. 

“I’ll do a slow one, then a fast one, then a slow one and then…” – we get the pattern and Crying High is good to his word. The more upbeat numbers are programmed into a synth that runs riot. Crying High holds two mics for maximum vocal effect. He throws his all into it; angular, strutting postures whilst the now-modest crowd looks on in appreciation. 

I’m aware of photographers taking pictures of the mask that’s fixed to the back of my head. We’ve all got them on. The final images must be strange; an act watching an act perform. I love this detail. I have loved this night. More, more, more of the same please.

Rubber Jaw, Nenah and Dualeh Oke – Victoria Dalston – Monday February 4th 2019

I’ve not blogged for some time. And for that I make little apology. Life has taken some fabulous turns and I’ve been lining my ducks up (so to speak).

I’m no longer in Spain. I didn’t quite make a year in the villa. One day I might regret that I cut my sabbatical short by a few months but the opportunity presented by the new day job was one too good to turn down. 

And working in the centre of London is something i’ve always wanted to do. With so many live gig opportunities on the doorstep, I am truly now a man in a sweetshop. I’ll be spending a fair few weekday nights in this fair city and what better to do than to scan the guides for the bizarre, the up and coming and not-yet-famous talent. 

 

It’s a Monday night in February yet still the gig-going options are plentiful. A few catch the eye but none more so than the ‘sous le radar’ night at the Victoria in Dalston. It’s not a venue I’ve been to before but the draw of seeing (for no door charge) Rubber Jaw for the first time, recently signed to Alan McGee’s new vinyl 7 inch label, is an enticing one. He mightn’t have signed a truly great band for a while (some would uncharitably argue since Oasis) but for me his stamp is sufficient.

It’s the rather peculiar beauty of nights such as this one that you’ll need to be open-minded about the variety on offer. It’s new and under the radar but that’s where any similarity between the acts on stage stops. To my mind, it makes for a better night if you’re not afraid to mix up the genres but many of the indie kids might disagree staying in the bar or planning their travel to only arrive once McGee’s protégés take to the stage. 

And that’s a shame. Dualeh Oke opens proceedings with warmth and awkward charm. A rapper with a backing tape, this young lad from East London shows enough within his four tunes tonight to warrant further investigation. He connects by confessing that he writes tunes in the toilets during breaks from work. The jazzy overtones of his songs about Instagram fame almost descend into trip-hop. He takes us further down during his dark fourth number, Dualeh’s comment on how he can’t always best communicate with his Somalian Dad. 

I head to the bar and order another pint of milk. No, dear readers, I haven’t changed that much. Milk is a locally brewed lager in these parts. I like the Victoria. Trendy yet simple and grounded, it’s got a decent choice of beers and a friendly bunch of staff. What’s not to like?

Nenah, the middle act of the night is not without merit either. Confident, urban pop, it’s taken out of the obvious with an occasional sprinkling of what could be described as a sort of middle Eastern dust. She’s probably got enough material to fill this short set by herself but generously gives up some of her slot to a K-rapper called Wu. Wu bounces energetically, hyper-actively and not always convincingly around the stage urging to all to feel his energy before Nenah returns for her last track, Sick. She has a bass player sporting a Lionel Richie T-shirt and you concede that there is something of the 80’s here; with a bit more polish, there’s an early-years Madonna waiting to get out. 

Rubber Jaw are nothing like Dualeh or Nenah but everything like every indie guitar band from the past few years. And it’s no bad thing sounding like Blossoms if that’s the space you’ve set your eyes upon. With familiar tricks and licks they run through their repertoire with cool swagger and nonchalant mumble. They’ve been generously watching the other acts of the night and such decent behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed in these quarters. Nice lads from Essex, you concede that they’ve got the tunes to make further impact in this big bad world. Unsurprisingly, they save their McGee released single, Feeling Funny, to their finale. It’s good but not necessarily their best; I prefer their third tune played, belatedly announced as their next single coming out in March by their lead singer. 

All told I’m pretty excited by tonight. I would have paid a few quid for the privilege of seeing these three acts run through their short sets but that doesn’t seem to be the aim of ‘Sous Le Radar’s’ promoter. With so much on my doorstep, I can’t wait to discover more nights such as this.