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Vertical Smile flyerVertical Smile

Bull And Gate, London
Friday November 19 2010




Something is rumbling in Kentish Town. Malicious Damage has taken over the back room at the Bull And Gate for a showcase shindig. Malicious Damage, of course, is the label that brought us Killing Joke in the 80s, and brings us a diverse range of noisemakers - from Shriekback to The Orb - today.

However, the first noisemaker on stage tonight illustrates another side to the Malicious Damage roster - a side that fans of the left-field post-punk tangents that, broadly, inform most of the label's bands might be surprised to discover. For alongside the weirdo grooves of the Joke, the Shrieks, and The Orb, Malicious Damage has a soft spot for - well, how can I put this? Meat and potatoes rock.

That might sound a little incongruous, but, let's not forget, Malicious Damage was the label that signed The Faces Of Sarah, a sausage 'n' spuds band if ever there was one. Headcount aren't quite so heavy on the digestion as all that, but they still represent the Unreconstructed Rock tendency. Three burly blokes hammer out a solid punker power-trio blast. There are some rather nifty fluid basslines lurking in the band's racket, but ultimately the solid wins over the fluid here, I fear. Final song is a cover of Killing Joke's 'Wardance' (the band hopefully enquire if any Killing Joke members who might be present would like to join in - alas, there are no takers) and while the song is as strong as ever, it does rather draw attention to the awkward fact that Headcount themselves don't have a comparable anthem.

Headcount / BeatUnderControlInDub

BeatUnderControlInDub is a name that looks like a misprint, but I assure you it's meant to be written like that. It's also a name that describes exactly what you get in the tin, because the band - which is in fact one man, a bass guitar, and some technology - deals in dubbed-out instrumentals, which loop and swirl from Mr Beat's on-stage workstation as if he's got Lee Perry trapped in the software. Feeding in basslines and drawing them out again, stretched and squashed and treated to within an inch of their lives, the sound fills the room until you'd believe Mr Beat (I'm not going to type the entire name every time) is chanelling Channel One. Impressed as I am that one man and a few boxes of tricks can create an instant dubscape like this, I can't help wishing there was an entire band on stage doing it. The sonic spectacle needs a visual counterpart.

Now it's time to get our straight-up grins on. Vertical Smile take the stage. Youth - that's him out of Killing Joke, as I hope we all know by now - is white-suited and surrounded by a slight variation on the usual Vertical Smile line-up, inasmuch as there is such a thing. Regular drummer David Knock is absent, but the bloke in the beat department tonight has the rhythm side of things well and truly sorted. It couldn't be any other way, of course, because Vertical Smile are all about monster rhythms. Every song Vertical Smileis built upon a piledriver groove, bass and drums sparring like heavyweight boxers, electronics squirming and two guitars jockeying for position. The result is a kind of supercharged Krautrock, a punk-funk perfect storm.

'Black Light' - Youth's anthem to too much fun - hurtles past in a thrumming blur, 'Automatic Freak' is freak-rock pandemonium. The extent to which Vertical Smile is a work in progress is rervealed, for 'Explode' now seems to have mutated into a rhythmic argy-bargy called 'Sex, Work And Leisure', and gained even more horsepower in the process. This is unequivocally a live band, and tonight's set forcibly makes that point.

But then again, much as Vertical Smile are in their element on stage, and much as I like to hear the latest mutations of the Vertical Smile sound, I wish Malicious Damage would nail 'em to an album now. The Vertical Smile tracks that have been knocking around on MySpace for some time have come out as an EP, but that's the only releaase so far. It's this heady brew that needs to be bottled. It would work just fine to wash down the meat and spuds.


Vertical Smile: MySpace

BeatUnderControlInDub: Website | MySpace | Facebook

Headcount: MySpace

Malicious Damage: Website | MySpace | Facebook

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

Find a Vertical Smile EP review 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.
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