[Sly & the family Drone / Some Truths / Anonymous Bash @ Exchange, Bristol, 19/02/14]
Nothing could have prepared me for the total fucking orgy of chaos that was Sly and the Family Drone. There was a clue in the name perhaps, as well as in the fact that the event at The Exchange had been organised by Bristol promoter Cacophonous Sarcophagus, who dwells amid the noisier and more extreme end of the city’s experimental music landscape. There were further clues when I noticed the drummer taping a microphone to the inside of his mouth and begin snarling into it.
The band’s set up consists of a drum kit, partially disassembled and spread in a circle in the centre of the venue’s floor, combined with an alarming array of effects pedals and some truly intimidating amplifiers. The first part of the set involves sonic violence of the most depraved kind – a provocation to see how much noise, distortion and feedback the audience can take without some kind of internal organ failure. This improvised assault does not contain even a modicum of melody; rhythm consists of the most viciously slapdash drumming coupled with minute pauses in the wall of noise. A few minutes in, and the ‘singer’ has shed his leather jacket and is spitting fountains of beer into the air, signalling the oncoming dissolution of any semblance of order.
Two of the band members have stripped to the waist, one of them grabbing onlookers and rearranging them in different positions around the band. It soon becomes clear that any notion of this being a musical ‘performance’ is redundant: onlookers are being submerged in a sweaty, participatory bacchanal in which any boundaries between band and audience are erased. Drum sticks are handed out randomly to members of the crowd, who are then assigned a floor tom to hit as erratically as they choose. Before I knew it, half the crowd is maniacally battering drums in front of them while the band member leading this debauchery is stripped to his pants and clambering on to one of the amps, an effects pedal tucked into his waistline.
It was a hard act for anyone to follow, and it feels more than a little peculiar to then find myself watching a man kneeling on the floor of the stage, his back to the crowd, in front of a modular synthesiser – an instrument so impenetrable to the outside that it may as well be the controls to an alien space craft. The solo set by Some Truths, a side-project of Bass Clef, at first appears to be knob-twiddling of the most obtuse kind. Yet the choice to have his back to the stage is actually an opportunity for the audience to witness his live programming of the synth, from which he conjures an impressive array of sounds, from glassy slaps of kick drum to abstract, spluttering glitch.
The final act returns to looser, genre-evading forms. Anonymous Bash is the result of a collaboration between Charles Hayward, drummer from radical experimentalists This Heat – who inhabited a no-man’s land somewhere between Kraturock and post-punk from their emergence in South London at the end of the 1970s – and members of Mancunian psychedelic collective Gnod. Their set includes synths, scratches of noise from guitars, bass and thumb piano supplied by Marlene Rebeiro aka Negra Branca, whose solo set I’d missed earlier in the evening, as well as intense free-jazz saxophone. In contrast to the introspective noodling that is often characteristic of this type of collaboration, the set is underpinned by Hayward’s taut, aggressive drumming, that at times evokes funk or even Afrobeat, anchoring the sound, while other elements are allowed to drift off and whirl into bizarrely hypnotic realms.