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Ulterior flyerUlterior
The Oscillation
The Language

93 Feet East, London
Saturday January 31 2009


Tonight we thread our way through the neon-lit curry mile of Brick Lane, where every balti house looks like a night club, until we arrive at the paradoxically anonymous 93 Feet East - a labrynthine entertainment venue carved out of the old Truman Brewery buildings, where beer, barbecues, and rock 'n' roll are available in roughly equal measures. DJs in the front room, bands in the back room. Once the traditional never-ending soundcheck is completed, that's where we'll be headed.

This particular shindig is organised by The Playground, a modern culture provider with interests in all manner of music, arts, and media. All of which sounds interesting enough to me, although it must be said that aside from the name on the flyer there isn't much to distinguish tonight's extravaganza from any other promoter's gig at 93 Feet East. But now the doors are open, the show is under way. Let's pay some attention to the bands, and see if they can define some sort of cultural territory.

Here's our first band. The Messengers are a frantic beatz-n-guitars nu-rave thing (the bassist is wearing a hoodie, with the hood up - a dead giveaway, that) who frazzle and fizz amid projected images. They do a pretty good impression of an agitated bottle of Lucozade, although I can't help thinking that this sort of stuff is looking a bit last year now. Or maybe even the year before last. Or maybe we've gone through nu-rave and out the other end, and now it's time for the revival, in which case the Messengers are going to be bang on the money.

Jittery electronics scribble all over the sound, the guitar is never less than a distort-o-riot, the vocals give it all a curiously indie-ish topping, and in the end the Messengers end up sounding a bit like Mindless Self Indulgence - if they'd grown up in Bracknell and spent their formative years in a pilled-up condition in fields off the M25.

The Language are also touting a mix of rock moves and electronica, but they seem to be coming from a vaguely Talking Heads-esque area: there's a certain cerebral touch to their post-rock dance inflections, while the bassist, who's wearing a black stripe across his eyes, as if he's tried to paint a Groucho Marx moustache on himself but missed by a few inches, lends the band a certain new wave arty air which I'm sure is intentional. By their visual cues ye shall know them.

Precise and insistent, the band's stripped-down rhythmic clatter, like a heftier, stompier version of the Delta Five, does some impressively no-nonsense business. Crunchy stuff, and really rather good. That's another one for the 'must check 'em out again' file, then.

There's something about the name of our next band that suggests we're about to journey into a wibbly-wobbly world of pscychedelia. Sure enough, The Oscillation uncoil a set of long, loping, psycho-krautrock grooves, built on recirculating basslines and mantra-like guitar figures. The best bits sound like a down-and-gritty Death In Vegas, and for a while, at least, I'm happy enough to get my krautrock groove on.

But, as I think frequently happens with this kind of music, the lack of a focal point begins to take the edge off. The band make little effort to engage with the audience, and after a while the sight of self-absorbed musos noodling away as if they're in the rehearsal room starts to get downright annoying. Most of the tunes are instrumentals, and when the guitarist does eventually step up to the mic to essay a vocal or two, he hardly leads from the front. The vocals are just another element in the soundscape, and I dare say The Oscillation would say that's exactly what they intended. But I think that if a band gets on stage in front of an audience, they have to perform to that audience - otherwise we may as well simply listen to a CD. The Oscillation's grooves are good, but they need more focus and less of the noodle factor.

Kitty Bang Bang / The Oscillation

An interlude of burlesque cavorting now follows, from the divine and befeathered Miss Kitty Bang Bang, who seems to have cornered this particular part of the burlesque market. I've seen her at quite a few gigs, lending a burst of between-band glamour to the proceedings. As it happens, I'm always up for a bit of glamour, between bands or otherwise, but I do wonder if the whole business of burlesque interludes at gigs will eventually become such a commonplace feature that, in the end, everyone stops being interested. We're not quite there yet, but...don't overplay your hand, Miss Kitty.

TurbowolfBut now it's time for more rock 'n' roll. Turbowolf are a stark and instant to The Oscillation's head-down noodling. In fact, I don't think Turbowolf would know a noodle if you served them a pot of the things in spicy chow mein sauce.

They're a brash, bashabout bunch, crashing and battering through a manic array of techno-metal noise bursts. They're like a cross between The Darkness and Alice Cooper, with silicon chips for brains. The singer, sporting a Frank Zappa moustache and a frankly disturbing grin, goes leaping and gurning all over the stage as if he's having the most fun ever, while letting rip with a tradiitional high-pitched squawk of a metal vocal - 'Waaaaaah!' - a style I thought had been eclipsed in metal circles by several generations of low-down grunters.

Well, it's good to know that someone still does the old balls-in-a-vice screeching, but I fear that Turbowolf's relentlessly frantic antics, which seem quite fun at first, rub me up the wrong way in the end. Frankly, they come across as too much of a novelty band for comfort - and the trouble with novelties is that they wear off.

At last, it's headline time. And Ulterior look like a headline band - all impassive stares out into the crowd, and a certain air of 'We're here because we deserve to be'. Fortunately, they've got the chops to back up the attitude. Shoved along on an all-pervasive electronic pulse, layered with treated guitar, Ulterior's music is a bare-knucke bout between dancefloor electronics and rock 'n' roll, and if, at times, it sounds like the rock pugilist is landing all the meatiest punches, the beat never gives up the fight.

UlteriorThe band's none-more-rock image somehow suits the sonic rampage: Ulterior are all leather and boots, urban cowboys spoiling for a shoot-out. They wear their rock 'n' roll outlaw outfits with a careless confidence that walks a fine line between chic and schtick, and frankly if the music didn't do the business they'd be easy to mock. But - key point here, folks - the music does do the business. Standing aloof, foot up on the monitor, amid the roaring, hammering heartbeat of Ulterior's electronic rock 'n' roll machine, somehow the vocalist even manages to get away with a shameless bandanna, which would be a ghastly fashion faux-pas on anyone else's head.

The end, when it comes, is a good old-fashioned fall-apart. The show is over running, and the house lights come on while Ulterior are still in full cry. That's the cue for the band to kick up a ruckus, hurling insults and fuck-you gestures at the venue crew, before bringing the final song to an acrimonious finale in a flurry of kicked-over mic stands.

But in a way I suspect Ulterior were secretly glad to be handed an excuse to pull some rock 'n' roll bad behaviour out of the hat. It's an instant justification of their impeccable rebel image, a chance to take that attitude up a notch or two.

And that's the curious appeal of Ulterior, I suppose. Although they veer dangerously close to hoary old rock 'n' roll hokum at times, somehow that combination of spiky attitude and leather jackets, antagonistic electronics and a big rock racket, works.


Essential links:

Ulterior: MySpace
Turbowolf: Website | MySpace
The Oscillation: Website | MySpace
The Language: MySpace
Messengers: MySpace

The Playground: Website | MySpace

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


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