It's like the Wave Gotik Treffen in here tonight. The Purple Turtle - a rather self-consciously edgy rock bar which usually gives the impression of trying a little too hard to be down with the cool kids - has just had an injection of genuine international alternoculture. Californian art-punks Cinema Strange are in town, taking a swing through London on one of their extensive European jaunts, and it seems like they've brought most of their European barmy army with them. Add a substantial contingent of French new-wavers Joy Disaster's own fans, and the result is a packed venue in which everyone seems to come from somewhere else.
Representing the home team, here's All Gone Dead to open the show. They're bigged up by promoter Cavey Nik as 'one of the UK's most successful goth bands,' which is true enough, I suppose...if you factor in the essential points that All Gone Dead are really an explosion in a glam-punk factory, and the only member of the band who actually comes from the UK is about to emigrate. That might tell you something about the health of the UK goth scene as a whole, but nobody's too bothered about the generic geography tonight, not when All Gone Dead are about to light the fluorescent blue touchpaper. The band deal in swaggering riffs and gonzoid melodrama, kicking up a riot of colour and noise, all ripped fishnet and body paint, half way between Rubella Ballet and Jackson Pollock. 'The Holy City Of Karbala', with its shouted-out refrain, wallops the crowd early on, and it all gets decidedly fierce from that point forward. Goth or not, All Gone Dead are certainly a fine live spectacle. Guitarist Steve - making his last appearance with the band before heading for California - rips out the riffs in a flurry of snapping strings, pausing only to sing a swift chorus of a Wurzels song, a moment of pure surrealism amid the glory and the fury. I don't know if All Gone Dead have fixed up a replacement guitarist yet, but here's hoping they don't get a goth. Get a punk!
I can't help suspecting that Joy Disaster chose their name with a view to getting their CDs alongside Joy Division in record store racks. Or maybe they were paying an oblique tribute to a band which seems to be some sort of influence: there's certainly a touch of Joy Division's furrowed-brow intensity in Joy Disaster's music. But it's leavened with a big, clangourous, Chameleons-style guitar sound, and an on-stage demeanour which is downbeat, yet easy-going. The band seem keen to be liked, and indeed are easy to like. Their robust take on guitar-driven alternorock may not be staggeringly original, but they've got the chops to make it work. The set is carefully paced for maximum build-up, and culminates in a thundering, anthemic workout which leaves the crowd sated and impressed.
And now we leave the land of rock 'n' roll, and enter a bizarrely-decorated hall of mirrors where Cinema Strange are poised to entertain us. Playing as a drummerless trio tonight - I dare say one of those pesky bizarre gardening accidents must've happened again - the band appear as a be-costumed bunch of mummers, a three-man travelling carny turn, an art class accident set to keening, teetering music. Naturally, they're quite brilliant. And, astonishingly, given that what Cinema Strange do these days is a million miles from the face-painted post-punkisms of what you might call the normal deathrock scene, they go down a treat with the deathrockers, the post-punkers, and the proto-goths who make up most of the crowd tonight. The band exert a hold on their audience as unyeilding hard rock hairspray on a three-foot mohawk. Tonight, vocalist Lucas Lanthier is costumed as a cross between Stan Laurel and - until he ditches the wig - Anna Nicole Smith. He's flanked by Daniel Ribiat, a ninja geisha on bass, and Michael Ribiat on guitar, an eccentric geography teacher in tweed jacket and purple feathers for hair. In the world of Cinema Strange, all this makes sense. In the Purple Turtle, it all makes for a fine art-racket, or even a fine-art racket. The stage is filled with movement; the air is filled with the peculiar, exhilarating wails of Cinema Strange in full flight. It's as if the electricity that hangs in the air around high-tension cables was given a voice, and an opportunity to tell its stories. We're a long way from rock 'n' roll, that's for sure. But the longer the journey, the more intriguing the trip.
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.