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The Violets
Lovells Wharf

On The Rocks, London

Thursday September 22 2005

A night of noise in east London, served up courtesy of the independent label 1234 Records - although, as far as I can tell, none of tonight's bands are actually on the label. I don't know if this means that 1234 Records are also all-purpose gig promoters, or whether they're just doing a one-off favour for some friends and fellow conspirators, but either way we should be in for some suitably ripped-up sounds this evening.

And here come the first of our sonic rippers, Lovells Wharf, who have named themselves after a real location in a rough and bleak area of London.

The band are a bit rough and bleak, too. They're doing that punky-garage band thing, crackling with lo-fi sixties fuzz, with a self-assured blues diva giving it loads on the lead vocal. She hollers out the lyrics as if she gargles every morning with Louisiana swamp water, assisted from time to time by backing vocals from the guitarist, who does a nice line in Tom Waits-ish rasping.

The sound is large and roughed-up - if you close your eyes you could imagine a bunch of grizzled blues veterans hunched over battered guitars, churning it out. The fresh-faced, youthful, demeanour of Lovell's Wharf is incongruous - surely, a band which looks like this shouldn't be making a racket like that? I can't supress a grin when the guitarist growls out a chorus - 'Coochie coochie coo, ahh love you!' - for all the world as if he's channelling RL Burnside. This, from a clean-cut young chap who looks like he's come straight from his job in the menswear department, is a wonderful moment of pure disconsonance.

But here's the conclusion: Lovell's Wharf make it work. Their very incongruity is their strength. They've got that essential gritty, unrefined sound nailed, and their appearance as rock 'n' roll ingénues is part of their charm.

GlueGlue also seem to call the rock 'n' roll garage their home. They play it fast and raw and shove it in yer face. But there's also a certain feeling of a bunch of mates having fun here: they come across as relaxed, amiable, kicking up a commotion for the hell of it. They don't have that intense gotta-make-it-or-bust fervour that I see sometimes on the indie circuit - there's no sense that Glue have their eyes firmly fixed on the prize of a Zane Lowe Radio One session, or the XFM playlist. They're just rockin' out for shits and giggles, and that's fine by me.

Our second intense female vocalist of the evening keeps the raw power coming, while the guitar interjects little moments of unexpectedness among the garage-riffing, occasional tangents which demonstrate that Glue don't see why they should stick too closely to the blueprint.

This is the element that raises the band above the garage-punker crowd: these moments of quirky individuality, which could be just the thing to propel the band forward...if they wanted to go for it. The verdict? Good ideas and a good-time feel, delivered in the requisite turned-up-to-eleven style. On that level it works. Whether the band want to push it to any other level is a question only Glue themselves can answer.

The VioletsAnd now, the headliners, the band that hauled me 20 miles across London on a school night.

I first saw The Violets a while back at the Buffalo Bar, at a gig I only dropped into by chance because I thought the flyer looked interesting. That night, I walked in as a detached observer and walked out as an instant Violets fan. It was one of those rare and glorious moments when a band I'd never even heard of before left me slack-jawed with delighted surprise and grinning with excitement (and believe me, it's not easy to do both those things at once). They were, in short, pretty good.

Now, lets see if they can do it all over again. The three Violets take their places on stage; there's no fuss or ceremony. They suddenly begin, letting loose that high-tension speed crazy sonic storm, drum beats tumbling over each other in a frenzied tumult of rhythm, guitar sounds splintering and shivering, mysteriously everywhere, like sub-atomic particles which can be in all possible places at once.

In front of this transcendental din, as stern as a governess and as energetic as Tigger, there's vocalist Alex, Alexis, or Alixus (her name seems to change depending on which website you look at), staring out from the stage with an appraising eye as she wraps her voice around the audience like a lasso.

The sound is dense, packed tight with rhythm and guitar, but paradoxically there's also space and distance in there, too. Do I detect the influence of The Slits, from that brief period when they were teetering in precarious balance between punk rock and reggae?

Certainly, The Violets deploy almost-dub effects with cunning acumen, sending reverb and echo bouncing off the walls, making the band sound much bigger than any drums/guitar/vocals trio has a right to. But the essential spikiness of the music always asserts itself. We are, when all's said and done, surfing the new wave here. 'Mirror Mirror' in particular is a burst of tension released, a jangling firework for the ears.

The set is short and sharp, and when it's over, it's over. No milking the encores or ending on a singalong cover version here. And yes, they've done it again. That stupid grin is painted on my face once more. Proof, as if it were needed: The Violets are as cool as chrome cucumbers and as vital as vitamins.

Essential Links:

The Violets: Website | MySpace

Glue: Apparently, no web presence.

Lovells Wharf: MySpace

For more photos, find the bands 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.