It is not often that Birmingham Live gets a personal invite to review a band of Flamingods’ stature, so even though I knew little about the band, they just seemed so interesting and different from what is going on at the moment, that I could not refuse.
Now more than ever, the support slot always seems to be some young band with misty eyes and embarrassed looks. The band member’s mum and dad are usually in the audience, noticeable due to their distinct discomfort in their surroundings. There is a smell of desperation coming from the stage and the musicians are burning with a mixture of misplaced ambition and raging hormones. Their songs are nearly always poorly written and unimaginatively arranged. Sometimes the visible raw desire in one of the band members gives them enough drive to be just good enough and the performance resonates with an audience… and then there is the other 99 percent of performances where the band just don’t have it at all.
Tonight’s support is Handwaxx from Birmingham, and they have something. It is a little unformed at the moment but it is at least something to build upon. Over time this may either be eroded by the reality of adult modern life or just enjoyed by themselves and a select few if they are lucky… yes, if they are lucky, they will learn that enjoying what they do is always more important than success or rewards.
Handwaxx are a three piece (guitar/voice, bass and drums) and are fortunate to have one member who looks like he already just really enjoys being in the band: the drummer (who did a fantastic Ringo impression and as such, plays simply and intelligently). The singer and the bass player are still too self conscious to truly let go yet, but if they do they will blossom. The songs are derivative, ‘Pictures’ for example is the Stone Roses, with the groovy, shuffling drums, mumbled vocals in the verses, picked guitar arpeggios and melodic bass line. The vocals change in the chorus a little but are are only then reminiscent of Liam’s snarl, from that other band who have cast too long a shadow over today’s up and coming musicians. Wearing your influences so obviously is a sign of youth and hopefully they will learn to find their own way. At the moment the defining sound of the band is that the singer/guitarist annoyingly insists on leaving the reverb on his amp on maximum all the time for some reason, but his guitar breaks transform into phase and distortion at times to add a bit of contrast. My only wish is that if they are feeling any joy about what they are doing, they communicate that better to their audience in their body language. Energy on stage quickly transfers to an audience as the main band on tonight will show and Handwaxx are sadly lacking in that area.
How can I describe Flamingods’ music? Well, the first time you hear it you feel like you are listening to a new language. There are recognisable sounds and motifs, letters, shapes and phrases. The rhythms are crucial because they give everything a solid foundation: the bass drum is a reassuring Krautrock-esque thump thump thump throughout. Everything else is a whirl of percussion, guitars, rumbling bass, keyboards, samples, wailing vocals and alien instruments. I spent the first three songs of the set trying to translate the maelstrom of information filling my senses.. only to realise that I was trying to experience the band through the perspective of a man brought up on westernised rock and indie, and I had to retune my position slightly. The thing is, Flamingods’ music is a melting pot; they are at the place where the west meets the Middle East, via prog rock, Bhangra and jungle – something they describe as ‘Exotic Psychedelia’. You have to shift your expectations of where a song is going to go, based on what you think you know about music. It’s like when you first hear dub, or ambient, or classical, you have to appreciate the structure of the arrangements first.
By the fourth song, apart from being blown away by the skill of the musicians and their ability to move from one instrument to another, I am just enjoying the journey of each song. There isn’t the standard western arc of composition in these songs, it is a pulsating, throbbing mass of syncopating rhythms, screaming stringed instruments, impossibly difficult drum patterns, drone sounds, all manner of percussive instruments that begin, build, swell, diminish and then suddenly end. Case in point is the stunning “Gojira”: the drum section sounded straight out of Goldie’s ‘Inner City Life’ or Roni Size’s ‘Brown Paper Bag’: mind blowing on an acoustic kit – precision drumming.
The energy of the band seems endless as they change instruments and continue casually throwing out technically challenging melodic parts on an array of musical gadgets and gizmos, some I have never seen before. Leading the band is head flaming God himself Kamal Rasool who remains centre stage throughout until the finale where he jumps into the audience to dance and sing, while his friends take his position on stage and also dance, encouraging the crowd to join in. I look around at the rammed Sunflower Lounge and everyone is nodding hypnotically to the driving rhythms and totally focussed musicians. It took me back to raves in the early 90’s when everyone was transfixed by the pounding rhythms and looping samples and melodies.
Some of this energy is captured on their new album ‘Majesty’, which is available now on Soundly Records, but to really feel the full force of Flamingods, you need to see them live. Their tour continues through November in the UK so you still have plenty of time to experience them in all their glory.
Review: Alan Neilson
Photographs: Adriana Vasile