BOOK BANDS WITH TUNES NEXT TIME.
This is what’s being said about Audioscope 2015. I saw it, on a poster. On the wall. In the men’s toilets.
And that is exactly the right place for such scrawl – in the pisser, coz this looks like another excellent line-up for the multi-band fest that lands in Oxford around this time every year. The question is, which arteest inspired the above comment? I think I can guess, but I’ll slip in a subtle subliminal clue P A R T C H I M P at the right time.
Anyway, on with the show, which has this year moved from the Jericho Tavern to the Bullingdon on Cowley Road, and it’s the usual mix of know-a-couple/never-heard-of-them mix, so a real test of a band’s merit is: would you coff up and buy some merch? It would have been a yes for Demian Castellanos (didn’t catch openers Kone), except that there isn’t anything to buy. Shame. His pedal-heavy hum ‘n drone guitar instrumentals, all Gilmour space and John Martyn echo over Urthona beds, are an agreeably experimental start to the aft.
Next, Taman Shud, but not before a swift pint round the corner to wash down a colossal slice of carrot cake. Back to the band and … this is ‘necro psych’, is it? Hmmm. With grating vocal effects? Hmmmmmm. Not sure, summat a bit forced about this rage but maybe that’s just me. Even so, whoever tweeted that ‘taman shud are crushing Audioscope’ had a premature ejac-on. Rein it in, twitterers.
Kogumaza …now there’s a name to grapple with. Literally. Couldn’t remember it all day, not even after a couple of medicinal dark rums, but that-K-band are a pretty impressive exercise in pure rhythm as their guitar-drum-guitar set-up cooks a nice line in Dead Meadow psyche, Earth-ly drone and part moto/part marching beats, the guitarists slotting in like a two-piece jigsaw. Finishing with a bit o’ familiarity by way of the Beatles’ I Want You (She’s So Heavy), Kogumaza prove to be an oddly compelling guitar act.
Marconi Union push a deceptively appealing set of mid-tempo steadybeat electronica, embellished by a bit o’ live instrumentation. Worth checking further? Very probably, yes.
One of the great things about Audioscope is that the people who end up on stage are in the crowd beforehand, but the next act – the gently feral Dave Heumann – is nowhere to be seen. And he’s impossible to miss. Why no here? Because he’s outside, chanced upon by us when we embark on a sustenance dash, guiding a cranky-looking old white M-reg Ford Transit van (check those curtains) into a tight spot by the front door, ready to wheel the gear in.
As Mr H and his Arbouretum/Trembling Bells hybrid touring band, featuring proper muso Alex Nielsen on drums, do their soundcheck we anticipate a gently mesmerising 30-minute groove thick with American folk ‘n warmth on this cold cold Saturday…. but what we actually get is a set that’s a bit, well, lacking. And I don’t like to say that, ‘coz these guys have got pedigree, but it’s a tad underwhelming from what should have been the first star of the star half of the day.
At this point, it feels like a long time since Kogumaza played and Audioscope is in danger of slipping away from itself. Fuck mid-road pleasantry and fuck cakes (for now), WE NEED AN ARSE-KICKING. Who’s gonna do that then? Who’s gonna grab that stage and own it, eh?
That’ll be Part Chimp.
Frontman Tim Cedar wears a Killdozer T-shirt and if you haven’t heard Part Chimp then that shirt’s a filthy enough clue for the riotous unwashed shitstorm they fling our way, all at one-louder volume OF COURSE. Noisy without being noise, sludgy without being sludge and groovy without being groove, Part Chimp rock like drunks on a sloping stage on the back of a Land Rover, yet they always always hold it together, JUST. Second track Trad gets the crowd jumping, the band enjoy it as much as we do and it’s fair to say that Part Chimp have lit the touch paper … no, forget that. They torched it. Party music for heavy times (unless you’re the Toilet Scribbler mentioned at the start of this review).
And with that half hour blasteroid, Audioscope is back. Gazelle Twin next … the masked, faceless Gazelle Twin. Don’t know anything about GT beyond the blurb in the programme (intense, uncompromising, unsettling, you get the gist) so she’s the darkest of dark horses on this bill. Who knows what’s gonna happen? Not I, that’s for sure.
Standing motionless, hoodied and silhouetted on stage with an backdrop of twisted electronic doom – and THAT mask – it’s the mother of all creep-outs, but as soon as she starts to move … you gotta watch. I mean, You. Gotta. Watch. Gazelle Twin mesmerises, not just singing but inhabiting every single word, breath and motion over Burial-heavy beats and after-hours menace. She’s genuinely thrilling, and as captivating and complete a performance (and this is a performance, not a gig, make no mistake) as I can remember seeing. Seriously. Dense and unnerving and both non-human/too-human, she casts a wicked spell and tonight, Oxford falls right under it.
If Gazelle Twin cranked our senses to new highs then Warp stalwarts Plaid supply a carefully-managed comedown. Musically it’s the right end to the day, especially after that Chimp-Gazelle suckerpunch, but it’s also the music least suited to the seatless, blackened backroom of the Bully … Laptops Onstage ain’t a spectacle to stand and watch for an hour, and it’s one of a couple of times where the Tavern’s warm muso-room friendliness is much missed.
But Audioscope 2015 delivered the goods again, and there’s no doubt about who stole it – red hair, blue tracksuit, faceless: Gazelle Twin, the interloper who came, conquered and vanished into the night. Now tell me: just where do you go from there?