Hipsters. Like the angler’s fish that got away, their exact description differs depending on whoever’s reporting it. Most of the time their existence appears to be a myth. But certainly not here and certainly not tonight. In the small, dank barspace that operates in what seems to be a disused train tunnel, they’re out in force, mingling with metalheads and standing out all the more for it. The coexistence is course. It’s an odd mixture of people and given the dovetailing of two specific scene types, both of which doubtless hates the other, it feels akin to Babylon 5, throwing various species into a melting pot and watching them stick it out. But we’re only all here for an evening, we can get along. If we had to share a ship together it might well be a different story.
Cafe OTO in the “up and coming” area of Dalston in East London – a pocket of awfulness standing as its own sentrygate to the North – is a shithole but a trendy shithole. What used to be full of the working class and workshy Rastafarians has gradually become inundated with scenekids. People who feel the need to belong to a particular trend of society to give their pallid lives some meaning. It’s a lucrative enterprise for any venue that wishes to serve their fads.
The bar itself is a dark tramshed of a venue. Uncomfortable wooden seats have been laid out in a half moon shape for about fifty people, looking at one side of the room which will serve as the ‘action’ area for the evening. There’s no raised staging because, you know, we’re all on the same level, man. It feels something like a seminar. Scant light is provided by the odd candle, there can’t be many of those either. There’s a bar in a corner of the room, which the chairs face away from, the bar looking like a bookshelf, or maybe it is a bookshelf with beer taps and cookie jars on it. At least the beer here is decent. German pils and Belgian Trappist brews. The barman is a dead ringer for Bill Gates in the 80s. Long side parting, massive glasses, knitted patterned jumper. I stop him as he’s about to tell me what Palm beer is. Been there, done that, thank you, but I fancy something new. I opt for the pils and take a seat right at the front of where the action is going to commence. A gentleman sits to my right whose look and age reminds me of the costume shop owner in Eyes Wide Shut. I like that.
I don’t have to wait too long for things to begin. I can’t be sitting down for more than fifteen minutes before Petrels takes his equipment. Swishy moplike hair, beard and chequered shirt, he definitely fits in with what the more hipster kids like to see. He doesn’t waste time and gets straight to work on the sounds, generating short, timid frequencies and hums which contain their own rhythm and posture. Gradually he ramps up the tone and the volume as the room is filled with a mid-range engine-like drone which automatically generates respect from this audience. It’s a powerful moment but Petrels is totally in control. He elongates the moment, drawing it out, communicating with it, and underlying a choir sound which will form the bedrock for the latter half of the soundform. This work is full of variety and texture, introducing intricate new sounds and elements, dissonant keyboard chords and short innovative melodies. Soon Petrels introduces a static, basic doggerel beat which punctuates the atmosphere before riding the whole thing out to the close. It’s a selfless exercise and one which demands respect from the soundcraft and the audience. He humbly leaves to genuine applause.
One of the benefits of an ambient gig like this is that there’s not a massive amount of time between changeovers. No roadies hauling flight cases on and off here, no – when one artist leaves the stage it’s time for another to just plug in their jacks and go. I barely have time to pick up an excellent Kernal pale ale before Eric Quach, otherwise known as Thisquietarmy, shuffles in with his guitar and soundboards. He mumbles something to a staff member about the fact that it’s too dark to see his pedals. The staff member obligingly tilts a ceiling light onto them. Quach scowls in a “that’ll hardly do” way as his face pinches into a crumple, resembling a sat-on cushion.
Soon the assembled, who have respectably gathered into a decent number, begin to hush. Certainly the girl in the black and white polka dot dress behind me has shut up, not before I entertain the notion of sousing her hairnet with some of Kent’s finest brew. Quach slowly teases the guitar into a light, staccato hum, scratching line upon line of melody from it and working in tone upon tone of layered sound. It’s a long, somewhat beautiful and disturbing adventure as we take a leap from the dronelike to the shrill. Soon, he uses a basic slow strum to shock the guitar into producing beats and claps, each one like the tramp upon tramp of a entire military movement marching. He then cuts the volume to half before doubling it again and building the whole thing to a roaring, pained, squealing climax. The resulting reaction from the assembled crowd is one of deference and rapture.
As we get ready for AUN to take the ‘staging’ area, I inspect the impressive merchandise stall and wonder just how often an AUN vinyl would get played if it landed itself in my record collection. Deciding against it and taking my seat with a Westmalle I wait for the project who I so excitedly came here to see. The hipster girl in the polka dot dress behind me is babbling nonsense upon nonsense. She’s here with a number of her friends but it’s only her voice I hear, unbroken by her friends’ responses. She uses no punctuation. Her words are several hundred characters in length. She must breathe in the same way as a didgeridoo player, simultaneous inhalation and exhalation to guarantee the most work from her diaphragm and larynx.
“It was so inspiring what they did, they went round the world living out of boxes and on handouts, and I thought… that’s what I want to do.” Thankfully I don’t have to put up with much more of this waffle before Martin Dumais and Julie Leblanc of AUN appear and get ready for their set. It starts with Dumais underlying the proceedings with a light, celestial guitar tone and Leblanc on programming. Things get to a slow start but before long Leblanc is tingeing things beautifully with her vocals. Effectively reverbed and haunting, they drift over the drone of the guitars and synths and a ritualistic atmosphere enshrouds the room. Halting the vocals, Dumais takes us into a mid-range, meditative spacelike hum on the guitar. Leblanc’s eyes and concentration are on him the entire time, waiting for the next cue. It’s a long intermission, and slightly selfish and self-indulgent as Dumias almost forgets the audience is there at all and gets lost in a world of his own sound and feeling. It’s now a personal voyage, one he has embarked on on his own, and looking round the room, there are a few people who are having difficulty linking with him. Even the ‘darkest’ guy in the Deathspell Omega t-shirt is looking unsure. Pulling it back, he ushers in Leblanc again who howls and wails into the microphone, dotting the drones with her pained and pleading vocalisation.
Looking at my watch [well, phone], I realise that the last train is only twenty minutes away. And I either ride the end of the set out and get the night bus, or take the swift, comfortable overground train now. It’s an easy decision to make and I pack up my stuff, congratulate Petrels who’s standing at the bookshelf-cum-bar and head for Dalston Junction. And congratulations are well in order since it was clear who the evening belonged to. Though AUN were, for me, the most anticipated act of the evening, Dumais’ ability to get lost and overenraptured in his own strains disjointed his performance from those watching it. There were definitely times during the AUN set where, as an audience, we felt abandoned. Thisquietarmy was high quality, and certainly compelling, but Petrels’ performance was something else altogether – thick, textured, comforting, affronting, light, dark and full of emotion and variety. Not being au fait with his work, I’ll definitely be investigating more of his material.
Overall a positive evening. For those of you interested in seeing some of this for yourself, bear in mind that the tour is still in its foetal stages. If you’re in Western Europe, take the time to experience some of what it has to offer. And make your own mind up as to the victor.
Written/photographs by Lysander
OCT. 13 GLASGOW, UK 13TH NOTE
OCT. 14 EDINBURGH, UK BANSHEE LABYRINTH
OCT. 15 MANCHESTER, UK KRAAK
OCT. 18 CHEMNITZ, GERMANY WELTECHO
OCT. 19 BERLIN, GERMANY SCHOKOLADEN
OCT. 23 POZNAN, POLAND KLUB FABRIKA
OCT. 24 WARSAW, POLAND SEN PSZCZOLY
OCT. 25 VILNIUS, LITHUANIA SUPUVUSI SKYLE / XI20
OCT. 26 DURBE, LATVIA ZEMLIKA FESTIVAL
OCT. 28 BERN, SWITZERLAND
OCT. 29 INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA TREIBHAUS
OCT. 30 BOLOGNA, ITALY FREAKHOUSE
OCT. 31 BOLZANO, ITALY ROCKNROLL
NOV. 01 LUSTENAU, AUSTRIA CARINISAAL
NOV. 02 CONEGLIANO, ITALY APARTAMENTO HOFFMAN
NOV. 03 LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA CHANNEL ZERO
NOV. 04 ZAGREB, CROATIA KLUB ATTACK
NOV. 05 VIENNA, AUSTRIA CHELSEA
NOV. 07 BUDAPEST, HUNGARY DURER KERT
NOV. 08 PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC CLUB STRAHOV 007
NOV. 09 BERLIN, GERMANY
NOV. 10 OELSNITZ/ERZ, GERMANY
NOV. 11 DRESDEN, GERMANY BEATPOL
NOV. 12 HAMBURG, GERMANY KULTURHAUS III & 70
NOV. 13 AARHUS, DENMARK RADAR
NOV. 14 GOTEBORG, SWEDEN FANGELSET
NOV. 15 OSNABRUCK, GERMANY KLEINE FREIHEIT
NOV. 16 OBERHAUSEN, GERMANY DRUCKLUFT
NOV. 17 LUDWIGSHAFEN, GERMANY DAS HAUS
NOV. 18 WETZLAR, GERMANY FRANZIS
NOV. 19 LEIPZIG, GERMANY CONNE ISLAND
NOV. 20 MUNICH, GERMANY KRANHALLE