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Selfish Cunt
No Bra
An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump
100 Club, London
An Experiment on A Bird In The Air PumpWednesday August 20 2008

 

The 100 Club, ladies and gentlemen. You might not believe it at first glance, but this unpretentious and slightly battered central London cellar boasts a long and varied history as a central London watering hole for jazz musos and boisterous punks alike.

Not natural bedfellows, you might think, but the walls of this Oxford Street basement are festooned with photographs of the assorted jazzers and punkers who have, at one time or another, graced the 100 Club stage. George Melly rubs photographic shoulders with Dave Vanian, Charlie Byrd hangs together with Siouxsie. And even if these illustrious names never actually met in real life, on the 100 Club walls everyone gets along just fine.

Tonight's gig probably counts as one of the more punky entertainments hosted by the venue – and yet, there's something about the rolling tribal drums of An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump that suggests we're not too far from the more outre fringes of jazz.

Add the bottom-end grumble of the bass, top with some soulful vocals, subvert the very notion of a 'band' by having all three members swap instrumental and vocal duties from song to song, and the result is a kind of Warholian sonic art project – you could imagine all this happening at the Factory in Manhattan, circa 1965 - that just happens to be a compellingly dynamic avant-pop group into the bargain. Which is just as well, given that the next act on stage isn't dynamic in the slightest.

No BraNope, No Bra doesn't do dynamics. But Susanne Oberbeck (she who is No Bra) certainly does concepts. And the concept here is...well, stop me if you find yourself sliding off the edge of your seat with excitement, but she simply stands on stage, reciting monologues in a monotone, while a laptop in the background rinses out some forgettable electro burble.

And here comes the gimmick: Susanne Oberbeck does all this while wearing no bra.

In fact, all she's wearing tonight are pink stilletos, blue stripy knickers, and an expression of studied indifference. Astonishingly, the crowd stands in rapt attention throughout the set, gazing with almost awestruck wonder at the stage, as if the sight of a mostly-naked woman being very, very boring is just about the best thing ever.

And I think, in that, we discover the point of No Bra. It's a spoof on the audience: an elaborate hoax to demonstrate that people will put up with any old rubbish as long as – hey, wow! - there's a scantily-clad woman involved. That's a pertinent point, I suppose. It tells us something about our society: if you want to get ahead, get 'em off.

But it does not make the performance itself interesting, and it certainly ain't edgy art. Ms Bra almost gives the game away, when, as her set trundles towards its end, she reassures us that 'There's just two more to go...just one more to go'. It's as if she knows she's getting away with murder, and is anxious to wrap things up before anyone calls her bluff.

Her conceptual point is made, I'll give her that, and the audience seems mightily impressed. But me? I reckon a No Bra performance is about as dull a time as you can have without your clothes on.

It's quite a relief when headline time rolls around. Were we talking about dynamics? Well, here comes a band that exhibits all the dynamics you can eat. Stalking extravagantly from one side of the stage to the other, as if he's got Madonna's 'Vogue' playing inside his head, Selfish Cunt vocalist Martin Tomlinson is part scary rock star, part prima ballerina. And yet, amid the swirling rampage of Selfish Cunt's ripped-to-shreds rock, he counts as the eye of the storm.

Buffeted by seething clouds of guitar, embroiled in the monsoon thunder of the bass and drums, he provides a focal point for the audience to cling on to, as the hurricane force music tries to sweep all before it. He strides across the stage as if wearing seven league boots; he looms out over the front row as if trying to stare into another dimension. He declaims the vocals in an impassioned wail, while the band keeps the storm stoked up.

Selfish Cunt have the knack of creating wildly visceral rock 'n' roll with a combination of everyday insousciance and a strange kind of other-worldliness: there's nothing about the band that suggests they're putting it on. This is the way they are, this is just the way their art turns out. But in the midst of the sturm und drang, that other dimension leaks through.

And who knows? In that other dimension, maybe Selfish Cunt have their photo - just to the left of Mose Allison, down a bit from Chris Barber - on the 100 Club wall.

Selfisah Cunt

Essential links:

Selfish Cunt: MySpace

No Bra: Website | MySpace

An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump: MySpace

100 Club: Website

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