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The Violets flyerThe Violets
Lost Penguin
Pink Riot
93 Feet East, London
Friday June 30 2006

Well, we've certainly got a varied crowd in for this one. London's East End art-rock types with their neatly distressed hairstyles are well represented, of course, as you'd expect in the hipster-friendly surroundings of 93 Feet East. But we also have a phalanx of youthful girls in carefully-assembled partywear, some of whom get politely but firmly asked to leave as soon as the security blokes twig they're a bit too youthful.

There's a smattering of trendy businessmen in purple ties, who I bet all have achingly hip and stratospherically well-paid artz 'n' meeeeja jobs in the surrounding area, and who presumably use 93 Feet East as their after-work booze-up location, because it's got to be better than enduring Coldplay on the pub jukebox. There are indie kids and proto-punks, and even one bloke who looks (at a distance) like John Peel, dressed for Glastonbury in shorts and T-shirt. It isn't John Peel, of course, although if ever there was a gig at which his ghost might have materialised, this is it. Tonight, we're surfing on the new new wave, or at least an eddy or undercurrent of it.

The DJs are certainly chanelling the Peel show, from about 1981 onwards. Everything from old Gang Of Four sides to freshly-minted brokenbeat gets thrown in to the mix. Curiously, given that they probably weren't even born when these tunes were first released, the teenage partychyx seem totally sold on the vintage post-punk experience. It's not often I get to witness a posse of keen teens flailing about the dance floor to the strains of Devo's 'Whip It', or indeed grown men with proper jobs getting down Pink Riotto 'Mind Your Own Business' by Delta 5.

It may seem incongruous that obscure rackets from the post-punk era can get dance floors moving in 2006, especially when they're thrown down with with new tunes which are clearly created in the same spirit. But it serves to illustrate the surge of interest in this particular musical area that's taken place in recent times. All of a sudden, angular, spiky, difficult, different music is in - at least, with a certain semi-underground crowd. And that's fine by me. Give me excess of it, I say.

To start with, what I'm given is Pink Riot. Three human beings, a guitar, a miniscule keyboard, a drum kit, and a sound mix that doesn't stint on the reverb. Lots of stopping and starting, staccato chaos and noise. The guitarist yells into the mic, then hunches over his guitar, the better to draw out suitably tortured sounds. He ends up on the floor, amid a mess of improvised confetti courtesy of the band's substantial fanbase of young ladies, who take it upon themselves to throw bits of paper all over the stage.

saves Pink Riot's art rock racket from degenerating into nothing but free-form noise is the hints they manage to drop that they do actually have real songs in there somewhere. It's all buried fairly deep, mind, and I don't think there's any danger that I'll find myself whistling a merry Pink Riot melody on the bus home tonight. But that's not what it's about. What it's about is pushing that wall of noise in all manner of odd directions, and on that one Pink Riot score a bullseye.

Lost PenguinNow here come Lost Penguin. They're colourful and youthful, ramshackle and dazed, kicking up a cacophony and generally coming on like a Chad Valley version of the Jesus And Mary Chain (that's a compliment, by the way). The bassist only has three strings, but that's enough to thump bit of beef into the bottom end. There's a geezer frowning quizzically over a keyboard on the far side of the stage, and, in the middle, wailing and flailing in electric blue tights, a singer who reminds me oddly of Bjork, only not so level-headed and logical.

We're in the pushing-the-wall-of-noise-in-odd-directions zone again, although in Lost Pengun's case it's not so much a wall, more like a brightly-coloured fence around an adventure playground for the under fives (that's another compliment, in case you were wondering). The band seem to exist in their own bizarre bubblegum world: if someone opened up a branch of CBGB in Balamory, they'd be the house band.

The set teeters on the brink of cheerful chaos more or less all the way through - at one point the singer clambers on top of the stage-right PA stack, and begins warbling, almost to herself, a snatch of R Kelly's classic soul showstopper 'I Believe I Can Fly'. It's as if she's momentarily forgotten that she's supposed to be in the middle of a gig, but somehow it all holds together. I don't know how much long term future there is in this kind of pre-school pop surrealism: sooner or later, I suspect, Lost Penguin might have to bite the bullet and start including some of that pesky Proper Songwiting stuff in their music - you know, verses, choruses, middle eights, conventional structures of all kinds. But for now, they're loose, loopy and actually rather fun.

And so to our headliners, The Violets. Now with new (four-string) bassist, and their consummate, and yet entirely uncontrived, new wave coolness present and correct. Did I say cool? The Violets are so cool they probably have to defrost themselves on a regular basis. There's a certain air of anticipation amontg the assembled art rockers and new new wavers, a sense that this is where the gig The Violetscomes up to its climax. The crowd clusters forward as the band wander, almost offhand, onto the stage.

What The Violets, do, of course, is utterly different to the knockabout stuff we've just experienced with Pink Riot and Lost Penguin. The Violets are all about structure and release, and the tension between. Here we go, then: no fuss, no big announcement, none of that 'Hello London!' stuff. They just kick it off. The basslines, now actual rather than just hinted at in the spaces within the guitar lines, bolt everything implacably into place, the scaffolding that holds up the band's Gaudi cathedral of sound.

It's not like the overall sound of the band has massively shifted, now that they have what you might call the conventional rock band line-up, rather than the minimalist power-duo-plus-vocals format of before. Everything is still all snap and rattle, crash and crackle. But the guitar now has more space to stretch out, more freedom to unleash those sudden squalls of six-string abandon, more opportunities to colour in the outlines, now that it doesn't have to draw the outlines itself.

Joe, The Violets' guitarist, remains traditionally impassive beneath his hat, but I suspect he's secretly relishing this newly created room to make more musical moves. As if to show that minimalism still rules, we get a mere seven songs. Alixus, on vocals, presides over each one with forceful economy. 'Descend' descends upon us with the metallic clatter of a pile of tin cans falling downstairs, 'Climb Me, Miss Me' asserts itself as if it's just arrived at a party bearing a bottle of good wine. 'Hush Away', the forthcoming single, arrives with a confident strut, while, by way of a brisk, wrap-it-all-up climax, the debut single 'Mirror Mirror' slots in as neatly as an Advanced Motorist finding his designated parking bay. The Violets have their art nailed down, that's for sure, and the contrast they effortlessly create between between the fluid and the solid never fails to get me right there. But the best thing about The Violets is that for all their cool confidence, for all the sense that they know their territory upside down, there's still a feeling that they've only just started.

Essential links:

The Violets: Website | MySpace

Lost Penguin: MySpace

Pink Riot: MySpace | Another MySpace

For more photos from this gig, 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.