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Screaming Banshee Aircrew
The Faces Of Sarah
Cryogenica
Purple Turtle , London
Friday August 28 2009

Ooh-er. Rock stars are watching me.

I've just realised that the (unintentionally) comic rock star portraits which used to adorn the now-demolished Astoria have found their way into the Purple Turtle. Vague megastar likenesses frown down from on high, as if disgruntled at their demotion from a major West End venue to a Camden alternorock bar. With the odd sensation that Mick Jagger's painted eyes are boring into my back, I turn to the stage to experience some of that Camden alternorock.

Or, in tonight's case, gothic rock, for that is how this gig has been promoted. Certainly the regular London goth scene crowd, which turns up to just about any gig that's marketed in its direction almost regardless of which bands might be playing, is in the house. Let's see what those bands are all about, then.

If it's opening band time, it must be Cryogenica. Two rock blokes and a cyber girl in minimalist goth-fetish gear. Cryogenica appear to regard themselves as an industrial band, although to my ears that's 'industrial' as in 'rock band with programmed beats'. In a way they're a very nineties proposition.

Back when Nine Inch Nails broke big, there was a sudden upsurge in NIN-influenced bands, all trying to do the same sort of guitars 'n' beatz thing. Alas, if truth be told, none of them packed anything like the wallop of their mentors. Not so much Nine Inch Nails, more a case of Two Inch Tintacks. Still, for a while in the 90s, being a NIN-alike band was to be at least on nodding terms with the cutting edge.

Over a decade on, that guitars 'n' beatz sound is too far in the past to be current, and yet too recent to be cool enough for a revival. Cryogenica can't help but come across as a band incongrously out of time. The riffs are crunchy, the bassist throws rock-god shapes with stadium panache, while the vocalist hollers sternly above the hammering noise. But I've seen too many bands doing this sort of stuff over the years, eternally filling up the support slots at 90s goth-industrial gigs, but never quite making it as far as a headline. Who's going to bet on Cryogenica's chances of headline status? Not, I have to say, me

   

Oh no, here they come again. It seems that any time tonight's promoter, Flag Promotions, has a gap in the bill at a goth-flavoured gig, The Faces Of Sarah get wheeled on as an all-purpose support band.

That's a bizarre decision, since the band isn't remotely gothic. A bunch of scruffy, downbeat, rock geezers churn out four-square rock songs with studied conventionality and a complete absence of excitement. Only the singer's foghorn blast of a vocal lends the band any real individuality - but a certain technical prowess at the microphone is no substitute for interesting ideas.

And yet, The Faces Of Sarah have been plugging away for years in this kind of slot, forever filling the middle bit at goth gigs, but never actually moving up. You'd think the band themselves would have twigged by now that, as a strategy for getting ahead, something around here ain't working. Perhaps they just don't care. But if they don't, why should I?

Now, here's a question. If Cryogenica are eagerly scrabbling for a toehold in the goth scene, ten years or more after their influence-bus left the depot, and The Faces Of Sarah are simply hanging around the bus station in the apparent absence of any better ideas, where does that leave the Screaming Banshee Aircrew?

This is a band that has come up via the conventional UK goth scene route: the usual round of scene-gigs, appearances at the Whitby Gothic Weekend, albums out on Resurrection Records. They've ticked all the boxes, and, at least in goth scene terms, they've been there and done it all. But now what?

With a sound that's increasingly astringent and post-punky, with a look that's more new wave than noir, the band find themselves at odds with the scene from which they sprang. They have far more in common with the twenty-first century new wavers that are currently kicking up rackets across London in the cellars and back rooms of Hoxton and Shoreditch. So, what are the Screaming Banshee Aircrew doing here, when they should be there?

Screaming Banshee AircrewThe answer, it seems, is giving the goths a dose of new wave juice - whether the goths want it or not. Swapping instruments as they go (a very Shoreditch new wave thing, that) the band rattle out their pithy, punky, spunky songs with hefty reserves of verve - and more than a splash of piss and vinegar.

There's life and movement on the Screaming Banshee Aircrew's stage, as the four band members get stuck in to the songs, and at intervals abruptly down tools and pick up other instruments. Outbreaks of tribal drumming and plenty of abrasive guitar shunt everything along, as if the songs are being unceremoniously prodded by pointy boots.

Vocalist Ed, glaring accusingly into the crowd as if it's all their fault, calls down curses on his day job in 'Circles', gets - possibly - autobiographical with 'Cool Goul Band', and, finally, winds everything up to a nerve-snapping climax with 'Shutter', all scritchy-scratchy Daniel Ash guitar and staccato, accusing, shouts of the one-word chorus: 'Shutter!' It's a one-song masterclass in dynamics, all the more impressive for being the high point of a set that doesn't stint on dynamics at any time. It's the sort of song that would set the back rooms of Hoxton on a roar, if it ever cannoned off those new wave walls.

It goes down pretty well in the Purple Turtle, too, it must be said. Maybe the goths have discovered their inner post-punks tonight. Now all we need is for the post-punks to discover the Screaming Banshee Aircrew.

Screaming Banshee Aircrew

Essential Links:

Screaming Banshee Aircrew:
Website | MySpace
The Faces Of Sarah:
Website | MySpace

Cryogenica:
Website | MySpace


For more photos from this gig, find the Screaming Banshee Aircrew by name here.

 

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
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