Club Uncut @ The Great Escape: Gang Gang Dance/ Babe, Terror/ Alexander Tucker, Pavilion Theatre, Brighton, May 12, 2011
As the first night of Club Uncut’s annual seaside trip to Brighton’s Great Escape festival comes to an end, a girl passes me yelling “My ears! My ears!”. New York’s Gang Gang Dance have just come off stage at the Pavilion Theatre, where they’ve cranked up the decibels to ear-splitting levels. Really, it was loud. Earlier this week, I’d been listening to their latest album, Eye Contact, recorded in relaxed circumstances near rural Woodstock, and been impressed by the ambient textures of tracks like “Glass Jar”. Live, they’re clearly a very different proposition: the sheer intense forcefulness of their sound physically impacts on the body. It had all been so very different three hours earlier…
The evening opens with experimental English guitarist Alexander Tucker, demonstrating his spectral mix of electronic effects, field recordings and samples, over which he layers improvised guitar sounds. It’s bewitching stuff, and clearly enthrals the audience. “It’s like machines crying,” one person tells me.
Tucker is followed by Babe, Terror, another one-man outfit (real name = Claudio Szynkier) who hails from Sao Paolo’s hippie district and is doing much the same with his voice that Tucker did with his guitar. For half an hour, he hunches over, singing phrases into a sequencer that sits on the floor, twisting dials, filtering his voice further. Occasionally, I’m reminded of the way Thom Yorke’s voice has increasingly been processed on Radiohead’s recent releases. By the end of his set, he’s so stiff from being bent over, he can hardly stand up.
Everything changes when Gang Gang Dance crank up the volume. The Pavilion Theatre is now rammed. There’s what resembles a black bin-bag being waved like a flag on stage by one of the band, while the guitarist seems to have what resembles a foot-long rollie hanging from the side of his mouth. Liz Bougatsos herself seems to channel some of the witchy allure favoured by her female label-mates at 4AD. Mostly, though, she’s there having a great time. And we do, too. Befitting, perhaps, a band who’ve spent a decade immersed in New York’s bohemian scene, you can detect some art-funk rhythms and chiming Afropop guitars in their make-up. But there’s endless, odd twists, too. It all goes a bit Middle Eastern for a while, and later the bouncy, echoing beats and synth patterns could be Tango In The Night-era Fleetwood Mac. At one point, Bougatsos just stands on stage, swaying, thwacking a drum. It’s all pretty loose, admittedly. All of a sudden, you notice that the bass beats have ploughed deep into House territory and, as if from nowhere, the gig has turned into a rave. Bougatsos can hardly stop laughing.
It’s been a fine start. Tonight, Villagers and the great Josh T Pearson will be taking the stage at Club Uncut. Should be a good one.