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Noblesse ObligeNoblesse Oblige
Bethnal Green Working Men's Club, London
Thursday July 13 2006


Seventies decor might be experiencing a revival in trendy style circles these days, but in some places it never went away. It just got a bit scruffy. Bethnal Green Working Men's Club is a riot of fag-smoke browns, all vintage wood veneer and one of those patterned carpets that's cunningly designed not to show the beer stains. The stage, which I'm sure is normally used for nothing more rock 'n' roll than calling bingo numbers and announcing the winner of the meat platter raffle, has a large heart picked out in pink lightbulbs for a backdrop. Well, of course it has. In Soho, all this would be deliciously post-modern and ironic. But we're in the East End now, and it's real. And, out of all the clubs in London, this is the venue where Noblesse Oblige have decided to throw a free party to launch their album, Privilege Entails Responsibility. Now, that might be ironic, but then you never really know with Noblesse Oblige. There's a strange kind of logic in there somewhere: when you're a Franco-German art-punk disco cabaret combo, how else would you launch your album but with an authentic East End knees-up?

The DJ, ensconced behind the battered upright piano (naturally the venue has it's own battered upright piano - did you really think it wouldn't?) bashes out an assertive selection of other-universe hits. The crowd gathers, and what a varied bunch Noblesse Oblige fans are, to be sure. Trendies and Torture Gardeners, indie kids and punks, they've all turned up, testament to the band's play-anywhere-to-anyone-and-suck-'em-all-in policy. But the fact that they're among friends tonight doesn't mean that Noblesse Oblige are going to cruise through their set with anything other than their usual combination of wit and bile and souped-up sinister surrealism.

Noblesse ObligeThe pink lights come on. The band takes the stage, looking determined and ever so slightly dangerous. Yes, folks, it's art-punk disco cabaret time. Here they come, Valerie and Sebastian, swapping instruments and exchanging glances, reacting to each other as much as the crowd. And here's the music: songs you can dance to, and songs you can almost dance to. 'Bitch' is a mad swirl, a thunderous Madonna-in-a-mincer anthem which gets the Torture Gardeners in a boogie frenzy, while 'Quel Genre De Garcon', sounding much more militant than the woozy left-bank stroll of the recorded version, practically has everyone marching on the Bastille. 'Daddy Don't Touch Me There' provides a moment of disconection, for in the middle of this genuinely disturbing tale of child abuse, the narrative shifting from father to child, Sebastian suddenly has to stifle a chuckle. There's something downright disturbing about that, and although it might have been a moment of random corpsing it nevertheless illustrates the essential point about Noblesse Oblige: under the humour and the gleefully low-rent showbiz flair, there's a heart of darkness. Even as Noblesse Oblige's music gets you bopping along with a grin on your face, you can't help wondering what's really going on in their heads.

Noblesse ObligeBut for me, the unexpected highlight of the set comes when Noblesse Oblige launch into a rendition of Minty's 'Useless Man', a song they've previously only remixed, rather than covered. Tonight we get the full-on N.O. version. Sebastian rasps out the vocal in a manner a million miles from Leigh Bowery's melliflous tones over a mutant disco pulse, and this one sends the Torture Garden contingent into ectasies. As well it might, for Minty, while always maintaining a certain witty pop sensibility, were heroes to the fetish burlesque crowd. But that was then, and this is now. Move over, Minty - Noblesse Oblige have arrived.


Essential links:

Noblesse Oblige: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig,
find Noblesse Oblige by name here.

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston, Red N version by Mark Rimmell.