Suicide – All Tomorrow’s Parties, Camber Sands 23 April 2005

With the untimely demise of the legendary Alan Vega at the weekend, I dug out this review of the Suicide performance at 2005’s All Tomorrow’s Parties at Camber Sands in the UK. Over time this performance has taken on an almost mythical significance to me, a memory almost as blurred and fuzzy as the photo I took below; but as you can see, at least at the time I was less than impressed with the music. You’ll notice that I did, however, make a point of mentioning just how mesmerising both Vega and Rev were.


Suicide were one of the acts that I’d really been looking forward to at this year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Camber Sands, East Sussex. And sadly, at least for me, this was not to be the ephiphanic experience I always hoped seeing such a historically important act in the genesis of modern electronic music would be. I’m not sure what the reason was – perhaps the feeling that Martin Rev and Alan Vega were kind of ‘going through the motions’, or perhaps it was the fact that prior to them I’d seen PJ Harvey and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist John Frusciante in very laidback, stripped-down solo performances with only guitars – in contrast, Suicide’s electronic compositions were a little bit too complex; and this from me, ordinarily an electronic music stalwart and a fan of the intricate and unusual.

I’d seen Rev and Vega wandering around the weird jaded / faded seaside glamour of ATP’s Pontins home the day before whilst queueing to check in. Now that was epiphanic – to be just a few feet away from two of my musical heroes while they shuffled past was quite mind-blowing – but the feeling that I got when I saw them perform was of being somewhat less than thrilled. For a start they were at least half an hour late, and then the music appeared to be played on a CD player, with the volume varying considerably from track to track, and often within the same track. Then there was the uncomfortable fact that Rev appeared to be doing nothing more than triggering some noises over the top of the recording, appearing to be the same set of sounds on each and every song. Cymbals, crashes, swooshes and abrasive noises appeared with frightening predictability / regularity, and often out of time.

Another problem was that I really didn’t recognise many of the songs, especially since they were rendered with an eighties pop sheen – none of the grit of their original incarnations at all, and one track even sounded very like ‘Theme From S’Express’ – hardly a counter-cultural statement. The version of ‘Cheree’ was rendered with a rockabilly edge, with Rev taking a stab at some live Phil Spector-esque Wall Of Sound percussion on one bar, then missing the beat on the second bar, finally giving up on the third.

A note on Marty Rev: if Suicide were the unlikely progenitors to the eighties synth duos (Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Blancmange etc), then Dave Ball, Chris Lowe, Vince Clarke and Stephen Luscombe and all the other synth-playing halves take note – this man has a vivid stage personality and an energy that none of these guys have ever shown. He was frantic, like the ubiquitous mad professor, all shock hair and whirling arms with the largest wrap-around shades this side of an athletics track. He really looked like Einstein composing for a Futurist symphony, and when he stood, centre stage, with his back to the audience he was quite a captivating performer. And on Alan Vega, who made showroom dummy shapes with his hands and smoked between (and sometimes during) songs – his voice has become more gravel-filled over the years, becoming the New York post-Beat poet that he always promised to be. I thought he’d totally lost the plot when he started imploring to the audience that you shouldn’t be selfish, that you should look out for your relatives. ‘You should think first before doin’ somethin’ stupid, man,’ he emphatically muttered. And, just when I thought that the fire and rebel spirit had exited the man completely like the smoke exhaled from his lungs, someone thew a bottle at him. ‘Like that,’ he responded; and with that, the punk in him returned. He stepped back from the mic and calmly flipped the bird to the audience member. However, I couldn’t work out whether he was wearing a Davey Crockett hat or a very bad wig. I hope not the latter; it really didn’t match his cyberpunk clobber and similarly-cool shades.

I really thought they’d hit their stride with a totally live version of the classic ‘Ghost Rider’, my favourite electro-punk standard. Sadly, my joyous feeling was to be deflated rapidly as the synth groove failed to run at the same speed as the beat, creating a sickeningly queasy rhythm that was painful after a short while. They followed that disappointment with a track that I didn’t recognise that reminded me chiefly of Depeche Mode‘s ‘A Question Of Time’ with its clanging industrial synth hook and beat. There was nothing especially wrong with their more polished songs, it just always surprises me when a band so at the very centre of their movement become influenced by the bands that they themselves inspired – with results arguably poorer than the newer breed. I left after just five songs, pleased that I’d gotten to see them, but wishing that I was a New Yorker alive in the seventies and able to see them at their CBGBs Bowery prime.

Originally posted 2005; re-edited 2016.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Barry Adamson & Russell Maliphant – Only Connect, The Barbican, London 08/04/2004

Barry Adamson & Russell Maliphant - Only Connect ticket

The orchestra assemble themselves on a platform to the right of the stage; Barry Adamson casually walks to a podium of laptops and keyboards on the left of the platform – the glow of the Apple logo, with the house lights still on and the audience still finding their seats, glints every bit as brightly as the glare from his wraparound shades. He settles himself to the left of the stage, flanked by Tom Robinson Band keyboardist and veteran Adamson collaborator Nick Plytas and drummer Simon Pearson. He rocks back and forth, seemingly testing the hip injury that has plagued him in recent times. His head is clean-shaven, his suit tailored to perfection, offset by a red shirt and matching pocket handkerchief; he simply exudes cool.

But, at least for the show’s first thirty minute segment, Adamson is just one of the talented players here, and as the lights dim and the Russell Maliphant dance troupe – Maliphant himself, plus Flora Bourderon, Maria Goudot, Miquel de Jong, Michael Pomero and Anna Williams – he begins to conjure noises, loops and speech samples from his Mac on the opening piece (Moss Side Story‘s ‘On The Wrong Side Of Relaxation’. After five minutes, the BBC Concert Orchestra (conducted by Robert Ziegler) kick in with some initially soft orchestration. The dancers are formed in pairs, looking something like an alt.Gap commercial, angular movements seeming to evoke the agony and violence of love, twisting and contorting with seemingly impossible ease. For the second track – ‘Dance With A Stranger’ – Adamson switches to bass, sitting in a chair among his musicians. He provides a mellow bass counterpart to a moody version of ‘Mr Eddie’s Theme’ from his soundtrack for The Lost Highway, before frantically working the frets as the momentum of the song, and the jerky dance movements, gather pace.

For the middle section, Adamson gathers his band down on the lower part of the stage (‘We’ve come down from our soul food kitchen,’) and urges us to ‘feel free’. The band then rip into a soul-jazz jam session (‘Space Spiritual’) which Adamson dedicates to the recently-deceased Magazine guitarist John McGeoch, with solos from Pearson, Plytas, Pete Whyman (sax and clarinet), Mike Kearsey (trombone) and Ben Edwards (trumpet), with some stunning wah-wah bass from Adamson himself. He hangs up his bass for a faithful rendition of ‘Jazz Devil’, refering to himself as Barry Hellafonte and Telly Savalas during the track. He stalks and prowls the stage like a wolf, grooving along with the jazzy vibes, supported by Dudley Phillips on double bass. For ‘The Vibes Ain’t Nothin’ But The Vibes’, Adamson takes a seat among the musicians, tapping his foot in time to Anthony Kerr’s vibes, lazily recounting the story’s tale ‘of lives and lovers, while toward the end of the piece the BBC Concert Orchestra soak the track with serene strings. A totally different variant of ‘Cinematic Soul’ (entitled ‘Cinematic (California) Soul’) closes this section, with Adamson losing power to his earphone just before starting. He grooves off the stage toward the end of the number, leaving the musicians to earnestly play out the song to rapturous applause.

After another interval, Adamson and the band once again move to the upper deck, and the dancers – now reduced to five – return to the centre stage. The band play a stunning version of ‘Le Matin Des Noire’ from The King Of Nothing Hill, with Adamson gesticulating and motioning as he half sings, half speaks the lines in French and English. The elongated version allows the mood to be teased out further compared to its recorded sibling, with the string section applying the Parisian atmosphere perfectly. They play two more tracks (‘Holy Thursday’ and The Taming Of The Shrewd‘s ‘From Rusholme With Love’) the latter featuring a solitary dancer bouncing, rolling and creating shapes in the centre of the dimly-lit lower stage. Adamson remains seated for these tracks, again coaxing sultry lines from his bass, while the gloriously atmospheric orchestra swells up around him.

It’s two hours, with breaks, but it feels so much shorter, all too brief. There’s an abundance of soul, atmosphere and emotion here – it’s moving, maudlin and murky all at once. But overall, like the man Adamson himself, it’s impossibly cool.

Thanks to Clem Buckmiester for the set list.

First published 2004; re-edited 2014.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Electronic Sound: Issue 8 Reviews & Other Recent Writings

Electronic Sound - Issue 8

I haven’t updated Documentary Evidence for a while but that’s not because I haven’t been busy with other writings.

The latest edition of Electronic Sound for iPad is now available. This issue features my reviews of Erasure‘s excellent album The Violet Flame, Olivia Louvel‘s mesmerising Beauty Sleep (featuring one track based around a sample of Recoil‘s ‘Stone’) and a major interview with Simian Mobile Disco about their new ambient album Whorl.

Issue 8 also includes a feature on the fortieth anniversary of Kraftwerk‘s ‘Autobahn’, which includes input from Mute‘s own Daniel Miller.

To read more go to the Electronic Sound website.

Just lately I’ve found myself spending some time at the Milton Keynes concert venue that’s literally on the doorstep of the village in which I live (The Stables) and in the last month I’ve reviewed three gigs at the venue. This marks something of a tentative return to reviewing gigs after a long break. The first was something pretty special for me – Nik Kershaw, whose solo acoustic show I reviewed for This Is Not Retro. Kershaw’s music was what I grew up with and Human Racing, his first album, was the first album I ever owned. My review for that concert, with photos from the Worthing gig on the same tour by my good friend and talented photographer Andy Sturmey can be found here.

I’ve also written two pieces for a local Milton Keynes site – TotalMK – of my other two recent Stables gigs. Dylan Howe’s Subterraneans found the jazz drummer performing pieces from Subterraneans, which sees his band work through jazz versions of tracks from David Bowie’s Berlin period. Howe is a hugely talented drummer who has worked with many different acts in the jazz and rock world, including Nick Cave, for whom he drummed on songs to the soundtrack for I Am Sam with The Blockheads. The other Stables gig was Tom Baxter, well known for getting picked by movie and TV producers when a stirring song is ever required for a soundtrack.

As well as that little lot, you’ll continue to find my reviews in Clash each month – the latest issue includes a piece of mine on the latest Thurston Moore album, which is more than likely the closest we’re going to get to a classic Sonic Youth LP anytime soon.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Swans, Concorde 2, Brighton 02/06/2014

Swans, Concorde 2, Brighton 02/06/2014 (c) Andy Sturmey
Swans, Concorde 2, Brighton 02/06/2014 (c) Andy Sturmey
Swans, Concorde 2, Brighton 02/06/2014 (c) Andy Sturmey Swans, Concorde 2, Brighton 02/06/2014 (c) Andy Sturmey Swans, Concorde 2, Brighton 02/06/2014 (c) Andy Sturmey

Swans performing at Concorde 2, Brighton 02/06/2014.

Photos used with kind permission of Andy Sturmey (Brightlights-Darkroom Photography).

Click individual images to enlarge.

(c) 2014 Andy Sturmey / Brightlights-Darkroom Photography

Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, All Saints Church, Hove 15/05/2014

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DSC_1960 DSC_1954 Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, All Saints Church, Hove 15/05/2014 - (c) Andy Sturmey Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, All Saints Church, Hove 15/05/2014 - (c) Andy Sturmey

Will Gregory Moog Ensemble performing at All Saints Church, Hove 15/05/2014.

Photos used with kind permission of Andy Sturmey (Brightlights-Darkroom Photography).

Click individual images to enlarge.

(c) 2014 Andy Sturmey / Brightlights-Darkroom Photography

Throbbing Gristle, Village Underground 23/10/2010

Throbbing Gristle, Village Underground 23/10/2014 - photo source unknown

‘If you’re going to come to a Throbbing Gristle gig,’ said my friend Ian, ‘you have to expect it to be loud.’ He was gesturing in the direction of the couple next to us at their gig at the Village Underground on the Shoreditch / Hackney borders, both of whom had their fingers in their ears throughout the final song of their set.

It was a common sight. There were lots of earphones and earplugs, which we felt rather defeated the purpose. The point is that this was supposed to be confrontationally loud, because that’s what TG were always all about – confrontation. It was one of many observations made through the course of almost two hours of relentless and – mostly – structured noise. Other observations included Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (in a kimono) looking a little like Harold Bishop, and Genesis Breyer P’Orridge looking like… well, we aren’t really sure what he looks like, but he’s certainly a lot shorter than I thought he’d be.

I’m writing this on a Jubilee Line Tube the day after; my ears are still ringing. But there is something about the noise of Tube trains on this particular line which provides a useful analogy for the majority of ‘songs’ last night – leaving the stations along the line the trains depart quietly until some sections of the tunnels where the noise levels rise quickly, swiftly becoming almost distressingly loud in their dense screeching and howling; like a gong softly hammered and then hit more forcefully, only put through a massive bank of distortion. Lots of the songs were like that last night – quiet, almost dark ambient at first then rising through waves of added ferocity to create a huge bed of noise that occasionally made the tendons in my neck vibrate. Beats were not eschewed, sometimes emerging as deep bassy throbs, sometimes rattling around like an old Cabaret Voltaire vintage drum machine.

New instruments were apparently being roadtested tonight. Chris Carter chimed what looked like small bells, while P’Orridge waved an iPhone about, coaxing feedback and tones from a white electric violin, at one point standing in front of it while it was resting on its stand and bowing it with two bows at the same time. Cosey Fanni Tutti played an electronic guitar, producing sparks of feedback, and switched to cornet for one track. At times the four of them were sat at their devices like online gamers. During the cacophonous final track of the main set, Christopherson put his fingers in his ears. It tells you it must have been loud if one of the band members had to block out the sound. By the end his eyes were closed and his head swaying from side to side, much as you’d expect to see someone absorbed rapturously in a piece of classical music.

The sound came to a juddering halt and they left the stage to applause marginally louder than the racket they’d just made. A few moments later Christopherson took the mic and advised that the band were ‘all feeling a little jetlagged so there’ll be no encore tonight’. This prompted boos from some quarters and half the audience departed, but, though it was delivered in an apologetic voice which hardly encapsulated rebellion, I almost saw in it the contrarian-ness, the punk spirit, of their earliest days. When they came back on, Christopherson muttering ‘Oh, go on then,’ like he was taking a proffered chocolate that he knew he probably shouldn’t take, it almost felt like baying to the pressure of the crowd, something they’d have never done back in the day. Luckily, the unashamed confrontation and aggression of ‘Discipline’ more than made up for the doubts, P’Orridge by this stage swigging from a glass of red wine and fending off a naked stagediver, taking the evening to a powerful close.

First published 2010; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence
Note – the source of the accompanying photo is now unknown. I am happy to attribute the credit if the photographer can be identified.

Laibach, Village Underground 12/03/2014 – This Is Not Retro Live Review

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On Wednesday Laibach played a gig at London’s Village Underground.

I reviewed the concert for This Is Not Retro. The review, photos and complete setlist can be found here.

Words by me / photos by Andy Sturmey.

(c) 2014 This Is Not Retro