Cold In Berlin
Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, London
Thursday January 30 2014
The Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen isn't quite
such a regular stop on my personal gig circuit as it once was.
The venue is now operated by the MAMA group, big-league entertainment providers who now seem to be taking an interest in the grass roots. That means things have become rather corporate around here. The Mama website has much to say about 'brand partnerships'. You have to search pretty hard to find any mention of music.
I suppose it makes business sense to control the whole process: to provide stages for up-and-coming artists, and grow their careers from small venues, to larger venues, to ginormous festivals, without ever having to step outside the MAMA brand portfolio.
But all this does mean
that the Hoxton Square B&K isn't the weirdo watering hole it
was. The mavericks, chancers, and DIY artists that once
played here on a regular basis (and got reviewed by me on a regular basis,
too) have largely been
replaced by a steady stream of mainstream-friendly acts, taking their first
steps on a corporate career that everyone hopes will culminate with a decent
slot at the Lovebox Festival.
Which makes this gig somewhat unusual - a bit of a throwback to the Hoxton Square B&K's former days as the place where interesting noises happen.
I think it's fair to say that Manflu and Cold In Berlin are unlikely to be on the Lovebox Festival's shortlist of bookable bands.
Cold In Berlin's presence here tonight is also
something of a throwback - to the band's early days on London's post-punky,
new-wavey, Shoreditch-centric gig circuit. Since they signed to extreme
metal label Candlelight Records (home of such strange bedfellows as Carnal
Forge, Epoch Of Unlight, and Imperial Vengeance) they've been dipping
their toes into the metal gig circuit.
Whether or not Candlelight can sell Cold In Berlin to the metalhead hordes is a moot point. Tonight, I'd say the evidence suggests the big crossover (or even a small crossover) hasn't happened. The crowd in front of Cold In Berlin is pretty much the same crowd they always get at London gigs: the post-punky, new-wavey Shoreditchy types who've been coming to see the band from day one. Metalheads, extreme or otherwise, are conspicuous by their absence.
Put it this way: there are no Imperial Vengeance T-shirts in the house.
Still, Cold In Berlin are pretty good at wreaking some imperial vengeance of their own. They come roaring out of the traps in a haze of smoke and white light, a wall of guitar battering the assembled eardrums, and vocalist My, as ever, a swirl of high-tension angst in the centre of it all.
Cold In Berlin have certainly got heavier, without going anywhere near metal territory. Their plunge into the heart of darkness sounds more like a collision between Sonic Youth and Diamanda Galas than anything more conventionally hairy-arsed.
They launch into 'Take Control', and it all
gets a bit avant-rock, the bass and drums having their own rhythmic kickabout,
the guitar sweeping across the page like charcoal, and My thrashing and
swaying as if the gremlins have grabbed her brain.
Although Cold In Berlin tend to come at the audience like a runaway bulldozer, there's actually plenty of detail in their music. It's interesting to see the band letting a little of that detail show, without reining back at all on the sheer noise. But is it metal? Or even just metal-compatible? Um, no.
Talking of avant-rock, as we were just up there, here comes a band that's a bit more avant than most.
If Cold In Berlin are a collision between Sonic Youth and Diamanda Galas,
Manflu are more a case of King Crimson, Plastique Bertrand, and Ute Lemper
falling downstairs together. The resulting tangle on the bottom step results
in a prog-punk pile-up that's always insistently, infectiously, rythmic,
although those rhythms might change direction and go off on odd tangents
at a moment's notice.
Among tonight's tangents we get the surrealist Brechtian ballad of 'Holes', the extraterrestrial bump 'n' grind of 'Moaning Moaning', and the multi-tempo extravaganza of 'Sleep', featuring vocalist Aza Shade on free-formsaxophone.
Or possibly not free-form - it's difficult to tell with Manflu. Even their moments of messiness are precision designed.
But the Manflu experience in all its wayward glory unfurls itself in front of us in a flurry of guitar schlangs and synth squawks, and by the time the band hit 'Tek' - a counter-intuitive song for Manflu, since it's one big constant rhythm, like every krautrock song you've ever heard strapped to a runaway train - the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen is seething with Manflu-provoked movement. Your MAMA wouldn't like it, but plenty of us do.