In the month leading up to the celebrations commemorating the 10th birthday of Brum promoters par excellence Capsule, numerous superlatives are likely to be thrown their way over the next few weeks, so mine shall remain under wraps for the time being. In the buildup to Decembers festivities we have possibly the quintessential Capsule lineup to enjoy — namely an internationally respected, cutting edge and challenging headliner, with the bill fleshed out by the best of the local underground.
Oxbow headlining was fitting in many ways, not least their completed checklist of Capsule specialities — Performance in a venue not notable for live shows? Check. (see their 2005 appearance at the Demon lapdancing club). Supersonic appearance? Check. Raucous debut show upstairs at the Jug of Ale, most probably with bleedin’ Mistress supporting? Check. Aided by two support bands with personnel boasting similarly impressive track records over the past ten years, this gig was perfect as an — apologies in advance — encapsulation of their strengths as promoters.
With a collective CV covering the likes of Napalm Death, Doom and Sore Throat, you could be forgiven for thinking that Light Trap would bring a touch of crust-caked aggression to tonights show. Whilst it could be argued that their sound retains the almost Birmingham-exclusive sense of cold, urban oppression that threads Black Sabbath through to Godflesh, this relatively new trio also exhibit a sense of reaching beyond the streets into the cosmos.
With Nik Bullens bass the unyielding centre, Johnny Doom using his guitar at times almost as an incidental instrument laying waves of darkened psychedelia as well as other samples and effects creating a hostile, stifling barrage bringing to mind a spacerock take on Swans. It’s not all one-dimensional drawn out drudgery either, with Una Corda drummer Dougie — himself a veteran of the Brum hardcore scene — bringing a sense of swing and groove to the band at many points. Light Trap also display a keen hand for the art of repetition, not least in the extended rock ending to the opening song. Despite suffering at times from first-band-of-the-night mix, an unpleasant atmosphere was created throughout and the set definitely got better as it progressed, indicating that the best is yet to come. It certainly will be interesting to watch these guys develop.
Continuing the roll call of Birmingham talent, Transitional is a project featuring Dave Cochran of Head of David infamy and Kevin Laska. Performing as a two piece with percussion and ambience courtesy of a laptop, they still manage to create a devastating sound, like a slow-motion descent into oblivion, with occasional passages of aching melancholy bursting through like glimpses of sunlight breaking through smog. Maybe it’s a complete reflection of my shockingly small knowledge base of industrial, but the two reference points that kept popping up were both Godflesh and Jesu, although their closeness to the aforementioned bands suggest a sharing of influences as opposed to any kind of plagiarism.
The only thing that stops Transitional crossing through into being truly essential is the lack of human percussion. Although perfectly serviceable as a duo, that sense of effort and kinetic energy that only comes from a human drummer is noticeable by its absence. That said, I’d bet that their records are the perfect accompaniment to a grey, semi-depressed winters afternoon through headphones, and their upcoming European tour with Isis should snare numerous followers along the way.
And so to Oxbow , who immediately and unexpectedly grab your attention with an unplugged acoustic number by the merchandise table. Backed by the downbeat drawl of a cello, vocalist Eugene Robinson’s anguished, tortured howls reverberating across the now-silent crowd without any need for amplification. As anyone with any prior knowledge of an Oxbow performance will testify, this felt more like a calm-before-the-storm moment, a tense lull as they took to the stage and to more traditional, electric instrumentation. And it didn’t take long for the band to lock into their signature chaotic sound, a skin-crawling, nightmarish morass touching on free jazz, mangled blues with only the slightest hint of metal. With an adept use of dynamics, their compositions are a masterclass in build-and-release, their use of tension and buildup as impressive as Neurosis.
With the intimidating figurehead of Eugene ruling the stage, everybody present had their concentration fixated stagewards, as if scared to look away. His commanding stature – the fact he strips down to his underpants notwithstanding — and his dark, poetic lyrics conjure up a million David Lynch-esque images in your head at the same time; a simile apt in that Oxbows’ music is as much a snapshot of the scabrous underbelly of America as Lynch’s films.
Throughout the performance a sensation of wrongness and deviancy is flagrantly projected, aided by the wonderfully sleazy riffs of guitarist extraordinaire Niko Wenner — you could argue that theirs is the downright worst kind of sex music imaginable. A top-drawer performance by a truly unique band, and for what must be the umpteenth time over the past decade, I doff my metaphorical cap in Capsules direction for a fantastic gig.
Review – Duncan Wilkins
Photos – Katja Ogrin