One way or another, I seem to spend quite a lot of time in cellars under the streets of London, having sound thrust at me by all manner of beat combinations. Well, here I am again - another night, another cellar. This time it's the wine cellar under Regent Street which hosts the weekly art shindig known as Tesco Disco, and the first bunch of sonic artists are about to do their thing.
You know you're getting old when the bands all start looking younger. I Am The Arm seem impossibly youthful but encouragingly odd. It's as if the weird kids from the back of the class had got together in the lunch break and assembled a subversive alternative to the school orchestra. The music is scratchy, nervous, garage-band experimentalism, all screeching keyboards and tub-thumping drums. In a way, I Am The Arm sound like an experimental side project put together by The Horrors, and while that might not necessarily sound like a recommendation - what with The Horrors being about ready to fall off their Cool New Thing perch any minute now - I Am The Arm's excursions into the lo-fi twilight zone do in fact hit the spot. All they need to do now is reincarnate Joe Meek to produce their debut album and they've got it made.
The blurb on the Tesco Disco website suggests that Wrong Animal are a holy mash-up of Beefheartian angles and Pixies-style avant-rock strangeness. Well, up to a point, maybe. But many of the band's songs settle into a fairly conventional pop-rock racket, bouncing along in an amiably straightforward fashion. The singer, feisty and energetic in stripy tights, has a strong but accessible line in pop-rock vocalisms, as if she's studied at the Debbie Harry academy of poptastic belters. Once you've navigated your way around the wiggly keyboard lines and occasional bursts of oddness which punctuate the music just frequently enough to justify the publicity bumph, the ultimate impression is that here's a decent enough alternorock band which isn't quite as radical as they would have you believe.
Boxed in by equipment, the Sixteens look less like a band than ground control at a DIY space station. Then you notice that everything - keyboards, the works - is going through guitar effects pedals. It's electronic music, but not as we know it. They hit the beat and hit their stride. The weirdo disco is in business. For all the ramshackle appearance of their gear, the Sixteens generate a thumping great sound which fills our incongruous wine cellar cellar like expanding foam. Nailed to an insistent beat, layered with guitar, bass, samples and effects, the music rolls forward like a gurney taking bodies to the lab. The two Sixteens hunch over their gear, intense yet gleeful, like air traffic controllers playing chicken with jumbo jets. It's difficult to tell if they're controlling the music, or if the music is controlling them. There's a moment of pure disconnection as the sampled station announcement in 'Ventilation Fans' booms out, while the band just stand there, letting the sample run, before finally cranking the beat back up. It's a surreal intermission. I half expected someone to comeround with ice creams. If there's a band which encapsulates the Tesco Disco ethic, I suppose the Sixteens are that band. Art you can dance to, if you don't mind making up the steps as you go along.
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.