Terrastock 3 @ ULU, London (28th August 1999)

This was the third Terrastock event organised by that bastion of the psychotropic tune, Ptolemaic Terrascope magazine, but the first on UK soil. The previous pair of 'Stocks were held in the United States and, with the disappointingly low turnout here, it looks like future ones will be located there also. The 3-day festival didn't even break even and you have to wander what's going on when the UK audience, which makes up the vast majority of PT readership, treats the event like the business end of a shitty stick whereas in the States, where PT has a tiny circulation, the tickets sell out in days. Perhaps it's a publicity thing, perhaps apathy or maybe the Reading Festival. What's certain is that it can't be the quality of the roster which revolves around a psychedelic axis with sufficient elasticity to encompass Damon and Naomi, Bardo Pond, Simeon from the Silver Apples, Green Pajamas, The Freed Unit, Bevis Frond and Piano Magic...

And Warser Gate, perennial Robots.. favourites and noisy art-rockers with a thing for spiralling pulses of melody, shriek and rumble. Live, the trebly scorch of their primitive, one-take recordings is reigned in by the simple expedient of adding a bass player for that low-end power. Slow tumbling riffs start off somewhere near the blues but end up shading in the black--- Sabbath, that is, if Tony Iommi were wrestling an alligator in quicksand. As if in sympathy, singer Kevin spasms as he stalks the stage, jerks in counterpoint as he delivers his lyrics in tracheatomic screams, windmills his arms and bends in unlikely ways at unlikely moments. All of which serves to highlight a sonic similarity to a fantasy Joy Division-gone awry, which makes a change from the usual Beefheart references but leaves me wondering why, as I look back over my notes, all I wrote during the set was "riffs riffs riffs" followed by "mindbending. Reading a map wearing sunglasses. In the dark."

The Spacious Mind are a more straightforward proposition---if by straightforward you mean five Swedes playing comfortable acid psychedelia with a Rick Wakemanalike on keyboards and the feared soloing tendencies. 10 minutes was enough.

Which meant a good view of Bablicon just starting on the other stage. Bablicon are from Chicago, 3 men with arresting aliases, blunt suits and a penchant for antique instruments held together and, given the length of the soundcheck through which the band jammed incessantly, seemingly connected to the PA with a wing-and-a-prayer faith in gaffa tape and blu-tak. Essentially improvising around passages from the "In a different city" album, their live set is like a Steve Reich experiment where the loops are not mathematically but telepathically related. Aperiodicity being the order of the day, the points where everything coalesced were almost beatific. Marta Tennae handled hyper-kinetic beats, fuzz harmonica and 4-track FX duties; The Diminisher theremin, keys and wind and Blue Hawaii the bass and guitar for most of the gig, with some musical chairs towards the end, each playing like octopii to reproduce something close to the album sound---and largely succeeding. At times like Morphine with a riffing sax and bass but for the most part, Bablicon live are a jazz band or, as The Diminisher put it afterwards, like a weird jazz band.

Pop Off Tuesday donned blue capes and danced like a couple of loons to their entirely innappropriate, but somehow exactly right, intro tape which culminated in a dual kazoo fanfare and the whole kaboodle being run backwards at high speed. Pop Off Tuesday are totally without guile, and Japanese; which two facts make their set-opening capers somehow more easily digestible than if they'd been performed by your average band of cynics and prima donnas. But Pop Off Tuesday are not average in any sense. Their music seems to have been plucked fully-formed from some ether where the usual rules have been bent seriously out of shape, but not so much that you can't see the ghost of the original. A set of largely new material took in acid techno and mutant breakbeats, fragile folkiness with huge surges of electronic noise and the gentle contrast provided by ambient lull. "This old lady" made up the demanded encore and provided a suitably endearing ending as the band left the stage bathed in orange light, one crouching and one upright, a metaphor for their perverse yet beautiful pop music.

Read the rest of Robots & Electronic Brains
Get your own Free Homepage