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Factory FloorMartin Rev
HTRK
Factory Floor

Corsica Studios, London
Wednesday November 25 2009

 

 

As darkness gathers over south London, aficionados of electric minimalism gather in a railway arch beneath Lambeth station. Tonight this encouragingly ramshackle arts space - I kid you not, the entire internal structure appears to be entirely made of chipboard - plays host to half of Suicide, an Australian doom-disco trio, and a collective of post-industrial noiseniks. Sounds like quite a party already, if you ask me, so let's bring 'em on.

Factory Floor don't so much start their set as ooze into the collective consciousness of the audience. Three figures hunch in smoke and half-light, surrounded by hefty amplification, black boxes and wires. Noise begins, a hypnotic pulse. Blurred-at-the-edges sounds - whether generated by vocals, guitar, or those black boxes, it hardly matters - sweep across a staccato background. But it's when the drums kick in - and, believe me, Factory Floor's drums really kick - that the FF experience really slams home. It's a touch of genius to nail everything to real drums: the physicality of a real drummmer in full-on action gives Factory Floor a presence, and an insistent, barrelling sound that trumps any notion that 'industrial' has to equal drum machines. It all builds and builds, until this old Lambeth railway arch is shaking more violently from the sounds being generated beneath than the rumblings of the trains on top.

Perhaps it's shaking a bit too much. Abruptly, all sound stops. Factory Floor's amped-up thrummings and rattlings have tripped out the venue's overload limiter. But that's not an inappropriate way for the set to end. Technology, unceremoniously shoved beyond its limits until something breaks? We'll have some of that.

HTRKHTRK are, on the face of it, a slightly more conventional proposition. Guitar, bass, drum, vocals. Yes, that's drum, singular, for HTRK's flirtation with the usual logistics of rock 'n' roll stops short of a full drum kit. In any case, any lingering notion that HTRK might be, you know, a rock band, vanishes as soon as they crank up their slo-mo weirdo disco.

HTRK's songs move at walking pace. The tunes exude a deliberation that's almost menacing, each one clumping forward on a convulsion of effect-o-rama guitar. The bass acts as the pacemaker, tugging the songs inexorably forward like the no-nonsense boss of a chain gang. If HTRK could be said to have a lead instrument, it's the bass guitar, and it's not here to mess about.

Meanwhile, the singer, dressed gaily for a day at the beach, intones the lyrics in an inscrutable lament. Her colourful outfit is a surreal contrast to the woe and undertow of her voice. She enunciates the line 'Everybody disco' with an indifference that's almost magesterial - HTRK don't care if we do disco or if we don't disco, but they'll exhort us all the same. At intervals, she raises her arm and fetches a floor tom - HTRK's one drum - a hefty whump, a percussion effect that has much the same air of finality about it as a judge banging a gavel.

HTRK are a truculent antidote to a good time, and yet there's a stony-faced wit at work here, too. They're a band so deadpan I'm almost tempted to jump on stage and tickle them to see if they giggle, but you know what? Underneath their nagging, hypnotic, anti-good time groove, I bet they're cracking secret grins.

Wearing his trademark comedy shades and striking more rock star attitudes than Mick Jagger on enormodome-duty, Martin Rev is another performer who's unafraid to embrace the absurdity of rock 'n' roll, even if his technique - knowingly ironic goofing, basically - is far more upfront.

Martin RevAs 50% of Suicide, of course, Martin Rev helped to deconstruct ye olde rock music at a time when it all looked like getting far too pompous and overblown. Suicide reduced rock to a thumping beat, an Elvis-like croon courtesy of vocalist  Alan Vega, and shedloads of reverb - not, of course, a million miles away from the modus operandi of Elvis himself. Nevertheless, in the musical context of the staid mid-70s, Suicide's techno-reductionism was regarded as downright heretical.

That, however, was then. Now, Suicide are hailed as bold pioneers of post-punk electro-experimentalism, and although I suspect Martin Rev's solo material isn't  altogether familiar to most people here tonight, the Suicide connection is enough to pull 'em in.

As it happens, Martin Rev's solo material isn't a million miles from his Suicide stuff anyway.  A beat churns. Layers of electronics thrum and rumble on the backing track, while Martin Rev strokes, caresses, prods and thumps at his keyboard in seemingly random fashion. At no stage does he actually play it in any sense that a conventional pianist would recognise. If that sounds like a recipe for crashing dischords and sonic randomness - well, that's where it all goes right, for Martin Rev's apparently casual dischords mesh neatly with the songs, and his sonic randomness is unfailingly spot-on. It's pertinent, perhaps, to remember that Martin Rev is actually a trained jazz musician. What he's doing tonight, splurging colour and shapes over the driving, push-and-shove rhythm, is nothing if not jazz, even if it's delivered with tongue in cheek rock star attitude.

He does vocals, too, and here he delves entirely into the rock mine, giving vent to a classic rock 'n' roll holler - and a mannered croon that sounds uncannily like he's chanelling his absent partner-in-Suicide, Alan Vega. On tonight's evidence, Martin Rev, as a solo artist, may indeed be essentially a more free-form version of Suicide. Sure, he's a bit more out-there, a bit more splurge-and-colour, but he's close enough to the Suicide ballpark to make the comparison spring unbidden to mind. But it works. The superstar shape-throwing, the caressed and prodded keyboard, the hurtling rhythms on the backing track, and the rock 'n' roll hollerin' - it's at once a deconstruction of rock 'n' roll and a celebration of it.

Martin RevBy way of a grand finale, Martin Rev's keyboard falls crashing off its stand - an event that I suspect is not entirely radom. I bet Marty's been subtly nudging it thoughout the performance to ensure he can do the traditional trash-the-kit ending, which is a very rock 'n' roll thing in itself, of course. Deconstruction and destruction: rock stars don't come more handily packaged than Martin Rev.

 


Martin Rev: Website | MySpace

HTRK: Website | MySpace

Factory Floor: MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

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Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson. Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston.
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