Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Support: William Bennet
Venue:Nice'N'Sleazy, Glasgow, 27th May 2007


Support: William Bennet
Venue:Nice'N'Sleazy, Glasgow, 27th May 2007

After 3 nights of performing the live soundtrack to the theatre piece Kindertotelieder at Glasgow's Tramway, the band KTL did a stand alone gig at Nice'N'Sleazy. A collaboration between Peter Rehberg (Pita) and Stephen O'Malley (Sunn O)))), combining laptop electronics and guitar noise. A curious idea to see a two piece band after seeing the whole shebang of performers, stage sets and all - especially when paying £7 to see the show compared to £11 to see the band.

The ticket says doors open 8.30, plus support. Aiming not to be too early, experienced with venues like this rarely opening on time, I still manage to get there for 8.40. Doors have opened, but other than staff, and the band, I am the first to arrive. Though fortunately people I know arrive not much after that. For the next hour and a half, the DJ plays a selection of noise/power electronic music - noise heavy, distorted rhythmic music, playing abrasively loud. Apparently the DJ is William Bennet from the notorious Scottish noise band Whitehouse, though I don't recognise him myself. The volume of the DJ is always a guide to how loud the band is going to be, because the DJ is always going to be a degree quieter.

On the door into the basement of the pub where the venue put on bands there is a sign that warns that a smoke machine will be in use. The machine chokes out smoke the entire night, so that pre-band the stage is barely visible for the most part. After 10 the band go on stage, climbing in to the fog. The 20 or so people for the most part get up from where they have been sitting and form a line a row or two deep in front of the stage. For the next 40ish minutes we are assaulted by O'Malley's guitar - a wall of noise, overwhelmingly loud. Too often the guitar overshadows everything, becoming a bank of sound that probably cancels out even itself. At times we can discern the texture of the sound, the drones and waves of it, mixing in with the laptop sounds which fight their way through to provide atmospheric bass and soundscapes. At the points where the sound achieves a balance it all makes sense and is enjoyable to listen to. The set is brought to a close on a high point, O'Malley disappearing off the stage and upstairs, Rehberg setting up a nice loop before following. Sound continues to play for another couple of minutes, before stopping. The audience stands there, with no sign of the band, a tentative round of applause, and the night is done.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Artist: DACM/Gisèle Vienne
Venue:The Tramway, Glasgow, Friday 25th May 2007

White. Everywhere. Snow on the ground. Smoke in the air. Figures stand and sit. Huddled on themselves, hooded tops and jackets to keep them warm. About 10 of them. All facing in the one direction. In front of them - a stage, stacked speakers, laptops, reel to reel, a guitar and microphone stand. In front of that - a coffin, a body lying there. The body rises. Slow motion. A monster revealed, monster mask and clawed hands. Shuffling through the snow, the figure stops, removes the mask and gloves. A voice over, talks about growing up, about being and adult, about how they can’t imagine that, though they can imagine becoming 16. Sinking to their knees, the dead crawls across the floor, headed towards two girls sitting together. One of the guys, Jonathan, steps up to the microphone, thanks people for coming to the funeral, and introduces the band, who the dead person liked.

The girls look at each other, the dead crawling closer. A sound spins round the audience. Chains, bells, something clanking and haunted, running around the back of the stage, running around the back of the audience. Two devils erupt on to the stage. In a slow motion world they move at full speed. Huge fur covered beasts, horns on their heads, balls filled with bells strapped to their backs. They grab the dead, lifting the body from the ground, kicking it, beating it, snow flies everywhere. Jonathan at the same time attacks the two girls, throws their bodies from the stage, and they go flying.

The beating done. The devils strip. Revealing just two guys in costume. They stand at the back of the stage. Drinking beer from the crates stacked there, having a smoke, enjoying the music. And the band plays on. A guy in a suit with laptops, a long haired guy tattooed with a guitar, and slow motion goth rock mannequin girl, making rock love to a microphone as though caught in a time warp. From here the piece revolves around sound and time and fantasy. Jonathan’s fantasies are voiced by dreams, conversations with his dead friend. The darkness, imagination, murder and rape. There are moments of sex and death, one of the stripped beasts kisses Jonathan, then attacks him, then the tables are turned, Jonathan strips the beast naked and threatens to rape him. Some of the dialogue is immature, childish, the delusions of a teen who imagines the beginning of the world as a Black Sabbath soundtrack, who imagines power as how many people he can kill and how hard he can get.

And the snow comes down. And the guitars play on. The stage is scattered with still figures, the cast made up of mannequins, emotionless objects. Perfect foils for the handful of people who are actually alive, even if I do swear I saw some of them move at times. The dead are buried and it all comes to an end.

Kindertotenlieder is an intense and sparse piece. Unclear whether it is dance or theatre or gig. Haunting and charged, the still figures have an uncanny presence, defining a non-space which the performers move in and out of as they stand still before moving back into action once more. A collaboration between American novelist Dennis Cooper and French/Austrian choreographer Gisèle Vienne. Vienne is the force and the mastermind of the piece, pursuing Cooper and encouraging him to become involved. Giving him a list of interests and influences, particularly aspects of Austrian culture strong with teenage boys - the annual rituals of finding the scariest mask, the confusion that forms a world view, friendships that flirt with homosexuality and homophobia, the undercurrents of violence. Cooper then shaped that into a text, defining the setup, the flow, the dialogue that is voiced over the piece. The dialogue and its delivery reminds me of Donnie Darko, the hallucinated conversations between Donnie and the monster bunny Frank, extended into an ongoing piece, where reality starts to become increasingly peripheral.

The collaboration is rounded out by the music. Peter Rehberg, the London born musician, who records mainly under the name Pita, and is closely involved with the Austrian label Mego, has been involved with Gisèle Vienne before on Showroom Dummies. Wanting to capture some of the metal, ritualistic aspects of the scene that was at the heart of the piece, Vienne approached Steven O’Malley, of SunnO))) and Khanate, at a SunnO))) gig and got talking to him. When he suggested that he might be interested in working with her, she put him together with Rehberg and got them to work together on a soundtrack to Cooper’s text. The result was the first KTL CD released by Mego, parts of which are performed live on stage with the performance. As the piece evolved, different pieces of music were needed, so KTL evolved further, providing a second set of music to work more with the end result, released more recently as KTL 2.

The performers are only actually five people on stage, the rest of the cast being made up by dummies, an idea that Vienne has used in several of her previous pieces, though as she explained at the Q&A the next evening, before the last performance in Glasgow, they are something she hadn’t finished exploring. As always, Tramway 1 is a great space, a huge square in this instance, covered in white material with the figures scattered around it, with overhead rigs set up to add more snow in a heavy shower at the climax. To go with the three performances, which mark the UK premiere of the piece, Cooper and Vienne did the Q&A in the mezzanine of the Tramway café, an in depth discussion of the process and how the whole piece came together, while Rehberg and O’Malley play a KTL gig tonight without the performance.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Title:A Man Without A Country
Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut died recently; one of his last books was A Man Without A Country, written when he was 82. A Man Without A Country is a non-fiction book, a rambling rant, peppered with tangents, and Vonnegut's particular humour. To a degree at the core of the book is how much the world has changed in his life time, how America has changed so much that he no longer feels comfortable to be considered an American. To a degree this is a book about the meaning of life, referencing and restating some of the themes that have been included in a variety of his novels over the years - for Vonnegut life was about being good to each other and taking the time to appreciate happiness. To a degree this is a melancholic book, even if it comes with a wry smile, Vonnegut lists people who were smarter than him, who influenced him, who he feels changed the world, and how they gave up on people in the end, and how he gave up on people in the end. To a degree this book is about addiction and destruction, addiction to fossil fuels, and the destructive results that come from such an addiction. This is where a particularly degree of his melancholy comes from, the idea that we are destroying the world, and that that doesn't line up with his idea that we should all be nice to each other. The key works I've read, and which he refers to through Without A Country, are Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle. Slaughterhouse Five refers to his own experiences during war time, a prisoner of war in Dresden when it was firebombed. At the heart of Cat's Cradle was the ideas of Bokonism, a made up religion, which encouraged people to be good to each other. That idea he states throughout this book, the idea of taking a moment and saying "Well, if this isn't nice, I don't know what is". As a book, Without A Country at times feels aimless, there are references to Bush and the state of America, which address the sub-title of the book, though perhaps not enough to justify the sub-title. Regardless this is a short book, a quick read, which reminds us of who Vonnegut was, how he thought, and to a degree how he would like to be remembered.

Title:Suburban Folklore
Writer/Artist: Steven Walters

Suburban Folklore is as far as I can tell a collection of short pieces, all with the same characters, which progressively became an overall story as they developed towards the book form. Ash, Yes, Nate, Sam and Rob are all twenty something suburbanites, who like comics, punk gigs, generally having a good time. But as they find themselves on the cusp of adulthood they find themselves faced with the problems and realisations that come with that. Yes crashes at Nate's frequently, avoiding her parents, fighting with her boyfriend. Ash suggests that perhaps Yes has feelings for Nate, something which becomes more of a possibility when she dumps her abusive boyfriend. But Nate is in love with Sam, they have always been close - best friends - but when she disappeared to California for 3 weeks with her boyfriend his feelings sank in. But Sam liked California and is determined to move out there to live. Meanwhile money is short for Ash, something that might be all the more important when his girlfriend is late. And Rob is still getting over a break up, till he meets an equally anti-social punk girl when he is dragged to a gig by Sam and Yes.

Black and white, slice of life comic book. One could almost imagine that Steven Walters had a checklist to work with writing this book - crap boyfriends, deaths in the family, messy break ups, hostile parents, pregnancy scares, relationships confusion, and the one closest to my poor broken heart, falling for a friend. For all the shopping list of drama, we have a wide enough cast to split the duties up between them, and the way it all comes together works well. So that the results are emotive and affecting, or maybe I'm just too close to the subject matter right now? Though, strong, contemporary characters that I can relate to, has always been an appealing subject matter for indie comics that I have enjoyed.

Walters has set up in own publishing imprint Ourobor to get this book out there, the DIY aspect of the indie scene always being something important, inspirational, and difficult. Artistically we can see the quality of work improve through the book, so that by the end it would be fair to compare his drawing to that of someone like Steve Rolston. With more shorts being published through his website, Walters is someone who I think will be worth watching.

Title:Ferpect Crime [Crimen Ferpecto]
Cast: Guillermo Toledo, Mónica Cervera, Luis Varela
Director:Álex de la Iglesia

Rafael(Guillermo Toledo) has everything. He is well regarded and respected by those around him. He is a bit of a ladies man, surrounded by beautiful women, who are only to happy to please him. As head of lady's wear in a major city store, he is confident he can beat the head of the men's wear department Don Antonio(Luis Varela), and become the floor manager. However, after some tense sales competition, Rafael loses out to his rival. After years of rivalry, and jealousy, Don Antonio is not going to let Rafael retain his position, and with the slightest excuse Rafael becomes disgraced. His life comes tumbling down around his ears. At the moment, the moment of despair, things get out of hand, and Rafael kills Don Antonio. Its an accident, but will the witness who gets away just before Rafael can find out who they are see it that way? This has not been the perfect crime, though when the witness reveals themselves, perhaps they can come to an arrangement?

Director Álex de la Iglesia's deft work provides another Hitchcockian thriller, unfolding in his own unique style. From the start Ferpect Crime has a strong vein of comedy, one which comes increasingly black and warped, as the film goes on. From the slick, dream like beginnings – the wonder, the joy, the ease. To the twisted, nightmarish ending – the blackmail, the ghosts, the sheer torture. Álex de la Iglesia has a history of the absurd, from his Accion Mutante (disabled terrorists fighting for their rights) through The Day of The Beast (a hapless group of people trying to stop the arrival of the devil in Barcelona). Here it expresses itself through clowns and ghosts, at moments of stress Rafael is haunted by Don Antonio.

Álex de la Iglesia's films are always fun, the big problem is that not nearly enough people get to see his work and that it remains hard to find. Ferpect Crime had a one off showing, part of this year's annual Spanish Film Festival, though hopefully it will get some semblance of a wider release at some point – though given the last film I saw by him seems to have vanished without trace I won't hold my breath.

Title:Tell No One [Ne le dis à Personne]
Cast: François Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze, André Dussollier, Kristin Scott Thomas, François Berléand, Nathalie Baye, Jean Rochefort, Marina Hands
Director:Guillaume Canet

Tell No One is a French thriller based on the novel by American writer Harlan Corben, transporting the setting of the novel from America to France. Shown as part of the Glasgow Film Festival, where I saw it, then again as part of the annual French Film Festival, and now approaching general release. Tell No One is a rarity, in that it is a film based on a thriller that I have read, and that i enjoyed a lot.

A couple are attacked while visiting the family's lakeside home. He wakes up in hospital, and she has vanished. A body is found, his wife, the latest victim of a serial killer. Years pass and the man rebuilds his life the best he can, working as a doctor in a city medical centre. But some questions were never answered, and the police are suddenly approaching him, apparently as a suspect again. Bodies have been found, just off the land owned by the family, two men, one of whom has a key to a locker owned by the dead woman.

Confused and upset that all this is coming up again, the man's life is entirely turned around when he receives an email, which leads him to a temporary webcam. On the camera, for a moment, his wife steps into view, looks at him, and walks away. Tell no one, her message warns, they are watching, they are listening. Things get chaotic, the police are after him, people are being killed and he is being framed, and his wife is not dead after all.

An adaptation from a novel always has a key problem - what the film shows is not what you saw in your head. Sometimes the translation is close enough that you can shrug and get on with it, sometimes not. For me, the moment where the wife reveals herself on the camera is key, and for me, it just didn't translate well enough. Though certainly, the build to that moment, the email, the time release, the tension of waiting, worked quite well. As the film hits the chaos point where everyone wants to get their hands on the lead, and he is running for his life, I started to feel that the film was attaining the kind of tension I expected.

In the end, the film does feel as though it is being true to the book in a lot of ways. The switch of locations is interesting, especially in the way that it affects the characterisation/settings. A decent enough thriller, though it never really attains the level I was wanting from the adaptation.

Cast: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Chris Evans, Troy Garity, Hiroyuki Sanada, Mark Strong, Benedict Wong
Director:Danny Boyle

The Sun is dying, and with it so are we, the planet growing colder by the day. The crew of Icarus II represent our last hope, the last of our resources scraped together and made into a bomb that will hopefully kick-start the Sun, and make everything ok. Day to day life on the Icarus II is a precise and wondrous thing, though tensions are in the air as they get further from Earth. They have gardens, supplying food and air, and it seems every day the Universe has a new wonder for them to sit and look upon.

However, things are thrown into turmoil when they detect the distress call from Icarus I, their failed predecessor. They have a quandary - does it make more sense to go off course to the original Icarus, perhaps get information, retrieve the original payload to double their chances, or is it more important to stay on course and get the job done? But the Icarus I is a harbinger of bad luck, and everything starts to go wrong from there on.

Sunshine, the third collaboration between director Danny Boyle and author Alex Garland, following 28 Days Later and The Beach, is something of a mixed piece. But then all of Boyle's work to date have been flawed to some degree or other, regardless of his cult status. For me, the first half of Sunshine is enjoyable, it embodies the wonders of Science Fiction, the huge ship, its mechanics, the brilliance of the Sun, the crew sitting together to watch the planets going by. This material is simple, but handled so well that it is memorable and striking. After the turning point though, we are watching a different film, we've lapsed into SF as action film with extra effects. We've lapsed into a remake of Event Horizon, a film I didn't like first time round for all its high reliance on visuals without the depth to back it up. Sunshine handles this material better than Event Horizon did, so that it is tighter and better done.

Sunshine is worth the moments, though in the end the flaws are too clear and the results are disappointing.

Cast: Nicholas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel, Thomas Kretschmann
Director:Lee Tamahori

Nicholas Cage is a Vegas stage magician, though Julianne Moore suspects there is more to it than mere sleight of hand. Moore is an agent, looking for alternative methods of gathering intelligence, different ways of combating terrorism. Cage actually does have pre-cognitive abilities, though he can only see 2 minutes into his own future. However, there is a twist in each of their lives, Cage has had one incident where he has seen more than two minutes ahead, and that involves an encounter with Jessica Biel, though he doesn't know when this encounter will occur, he is obsessed with making sure he doesn't miss it, while Moore is under pressure with the discovery that a nuclear missile has been smuggled into America by terrorists and that they need to follow any lead that they possibly can.

From there Next is a shambles of Moore trying to recruit Cage, Cage trying to win Biel, and some random non-specific movie terrorists trying to upset everyone. Of course this involves the usual running around, shouting, shooting, blowing things up. Mix into that a dose of moving out of the way before things happen, playing out scenarios before doing it for real, to offer that dose of science fiction and you have your hollywood fodder sorted.

Next is the latest in an ongoing process of plundering the works of Philip K. Dick. After the recent success of A Scanner Darkly, and by success I mean "bearing some resemblance to the work it is based on" as opposed to "box office", it looks like Next is another appalling piece of work like Paycheck. While I haven't read The Golden Man, so can't comment too much on how close it is to the original, I do know Dick's work in general well enough to make a fair guess that this isn't what he wrote. The idea of having seen the future and knowing how to react does indeed provide common ground between Paycheck and Next, and to a degree Minority Report also had that though it wasn't set in the present so there are less parallels there. However, while Paycheck was a mess, partly due to casting of Ben Affleck, and Next certainly looks to be a mess, I have to admit, I didn't think it was that bad.

Well ok, let me take that back, Next is bad. Nicholas Cage is a dreadful actor in general, and a dreadful actor here. But given the recent horror that was Ghost Rider, given the trailer/publicity for Next, it would be fair to expect this to be a truly bad film. Perhaps my expectations were lowered so much that it just wasn't as bad as I expected? Perhaps. But I did kind of enjoy it, though that was more down to the elements of precognition, some of the little effect scenes, and crucially the relationship between Cage and Biel. But hey, even if I say I kind of enjoyed it, even if I suggest its OK to sit and watch on a Saturday night, don't be mistaken and think I said it was actually good.

Title:The Uncertain Guest [El Habitante Incierto]
Cast: Andoni Gracia, Mónica López, Francesc Garrido, Agustí Villaronga, Minnie Marx, Pere Abello, Fina Rius, Xènia Gausa
Director:Guillem Morales

Félix is an architect and he has converted an old house to meet his vision, but in the time that has taken he has become estranged from his girlfriend. She has moved out, though the house is still cluttered with her stuff. The house makes all kinds of noises, but Félix never notices those, until one night a stranger comes to the door. The stranger asks to use his phone, explains it’s an emergency. Reluctantly Félix agrees, and when pushed he waits in the kitchen giving the man privacy. Félix is stressed out by everything that has been going on, edgy and uncomfortable with a stranger in the house, he storms back through to see what is taking the man so long. The stranger is gone.

Did the stranger leave? Or is he hiding somewhere in Félix's large old house? Félix lies awake in bed, listening to every sound the house makes, convinced that there is a stranger in here with him. He jumps at shadows, phones the police to report them, persuades his ex to humour him and spend the night. Nothing helps, there is no firm evidence that there is anyone in the house, but Félix is increasingly unstable regardless. Reaching a crisis point, things get messy; Félix flees the house, sleeps in the car, convinced that he has trapped someone in there. But from here, the tables are turned.

The Uncertain Guest played as part of the annual Spanish Film festival in the UK. The film is mixed, by turns tense and atmospheric thriller followed by absurd comedy. The viewer should be able to work out certain things as they happen, but that only adds a weight to the film's climax. Knowing that it is only a matter of time, the comic material becomes increasingly creepy and soon enough the horror is revealed. An enjoyable and well done work - small cast and understated setting pulled off for strongest effect.

Title:El Aura
Cast: Ricardo Darín, Dolores Fonzi, Pablo Cedrón, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Jorge D'Elía, Alejandro Awada, Rafael Castejón, Manuel Rodal, Walter Reyno
Director:Fabián Bielinsky

Esteban Espinosa is a quiet taxidermist, with a sharp mind. His epilepsy causes some problems now and then, things at home aren't great. Doing some work for the local museum he talks to a colleague, a fellow taxidermist. Esteban has this thing, no matter where he is, he is taking in detail, thanks to a photographic memory he doesn't miss a detail. With that he turns his thoughts to perfect crimes, ways to get in and out of places, and pull off a job with no one getting hurt. As far as the other taxidermist is concerned its just one of those boring things Esteban does, but he invites him to go on a hunting trip anyway.

Esteban is reluctant. But when his wife leaves him, he changes his mind. So the two set off from the Argentine capital to head to the country for a hunting weekend. However Esteban quickly offends his host, who then has to leave because of family problems. So Esteban finds himself down there by himself, staying in a lodge off the beaten track because the hotel was full. Its the last weekend of the local casino in it's current form and the small town is filled with people. Of course, as soon as we are told this bit of information, we know that somehow Esteban is going to become interested on how the casino could be robbed.

The pieces fall together one by one. And sure enough Esteban takes the opportunity that is presented to him. But the question is - is he as good as he thinks? Will the stress of the real thing trigger his epilepsy at a key moment? Will he actually be able to keep track of every piece of information when it really counts? The film progresses in a fatalistic manner, the attentive audience can see things that Esteban can't, so we have an insight, which adds to the gripping delivery.

El Aura was the second film by directed Fabián Bielinsky, whose debut film Nine Queens gained some acclaim on the world cinema circuit, creating something of a buzz. In the baffling way of these things, the film was subsequently remade as a kind of indie American film - Criminal - which was apparently decent, though I never got round to seeing it. Ricardo Darín is recast from the conman of Nine Queens to the intense taxidermist of El Aura, and once again he delivers an intent and convincing performance. Sadly last year, director Fabián Bielinsky died of a heart attack, in his mid-40s, with two of the strongest films to come out of South America in recent years - how many more could he have done?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Artist: Les Ballets C. de la B
Venue:The Tramway, Glasgow, Friday 18th May 2007

Week 3 of Tramway's May Events, and a return of Les Ballets C. de la B., this time Koen Augustijnen's Import/Export. This time the stage is comprised of packing cases. Ideas of transportation, of smuggling, of people made vulnerable. The opening scene has the six performers sat on the floor - Lazara Rosell Albear, Marie Bauer, Juan Benitez, Gael Santisteva, Milan Szypura and Koen Augustijnen - rocking back and forward to the sound of the ocean. We have the idea of these people from all around the world, huddled together, sliding around with the movements of the container that they are hidden within.

Over the hour and a half that follows, these 6 people play through a number of roles, express a range of vulnerabilities. The most basic of those is that of the relationship, mock caresses turn to mock violence, the see-saw ride of turmoil, of how something can turn threatening so easily. Throughout the performance, there is an under current of threat, Augustijnen himself often being the one who turns the mood, who leads the pack when it turns nasty.

The guy on crutches struggles to stand is pushed to the ground by Koen, and a malicious struggle takes place. Marie is having a good time, till she loses her shoes, and when she tries to retrieve them she is confronted by Lazara, who leads the rest against her - she is thrown about, manhandled, tossed into the air, fear across her face as she seeks an exit. The performance progresses and the tables are turned, Lazara is a vulnerable woman confronted by Koen, who makes her strip - confrontational and authoritarian. At times there is comedy, one of the men lists off a series of things that he doesn't like, the last in the list inevitably being people who are negative. The rest of the group try and encourage him, pick him when he falls, carry him on their shoulders, in an uplifting and positive manner. Followed by a section where they line up in front of the audience and try and one-up each other in their slapstick positive/negative fashion.

Live music is performed throughout the evening by the Kirke String Quartet - Eva Vermeeren, Saartje De Muynck, Evelien Vandeweerdt and Herlinde Verheyden - two violins, a viola and cello. Accompanied by the Altus singer Steve Dugardin, who joins the musicians and the performers as appropriate, crossing the boundaries. Though the four girls get up and join the rest on stage for a couple of big ensemble pieces. The live baroque elements are contrasted stage by stage by an atmospheric electronic soundtrack as well, which ranges from ambient, environmental through to club sounds and hard beats.

There seem to be strong parallels between VSPRS and Import/Export, both expressing vulnerabilities, and involuntary experiences. Though while VSPRS is a mental reaction, Import/Export is more about the physical reaction. Both are emotional, parts of VSPRS reflects religious/sexual ecstasy, while the emotions of Import/Export are more about vulnerability, a sense of people closing in and taking over. With a total on stage presence of 11 people, Import/Export is less chaotic than VSPRS - though even compared to the duo that performed Mysteries Of Love, this feels like a more understated piece. But still the acrobatics are impressive and the energy of the piece is infectious. While I mostly tuned the voice out, the combination of classical music with electronic went well with the performance. And the stage set up contributed well to the mood of the piece, the set closer to the audience, so that people could be seen to be lurking behind it, spaces for people to hide, all adding to the uncertainty and undertones of the piece.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Title:Nova Swing
Author:M John Harrison

Vic Serotonin hangs out in Liv Hula's Black Cat White Cat, a public meeting place for his illegal tourist trade. People come to Saudadee, they do the bars, the fights, and sometimes they want to see the Site. But with Lens Aschemann from Site Crime, a detective who looks like an older Einstein, cracking down on the tourist trade, things are difficult. The site, the event site, the zone, the aureole, a part of that KefahuchiTract, an alien phenomena come crashing from the sky, transforming all that it touches - a place that it is hard to enter, and not come out altered in some way, where nothing is as it seems, and what it seems won't stay what it seems for long, where black and white cats stream in and out every day.

Vic abandoned his most recent customer in there, she panicked and ran, he felt he had no other choice but to get himself to safety. Though he brought an artefact with him - a daughter - something which he could sell, but turned out to be dangerous, to be infectious. Aschemann sits in the Cafe Surf, trying to work out where all these 'new' people are coming from - the band plays and the seem to stagger out of the toilets newly formed, unsure of where they are, but picking up the idea pretty quickly. The Cafe Surf backs on to the zone, the 'new' people go looking for drink and sex and good times - by the end of the night they vanish, either returning to the ether or going to go ground within the city. Aschemann is convinced that Vic is smuggling these people in from the zone, Vic has no idea what he is talking about. The zone is changing, the rules are changing, things are going to get strange.

Nova Swing is M. John Harrison's loose sequel to his novel Light, though it is all set on Saudadee, rather than layering threads from the present to the future. Harrison is at his most dizzying and hallucinogenic with Nova Swing, the pace and style reminding of the gleeful bafflement that comes from reading Steve Aylett, perhaps a little more focussed, perhaps more towards the Jeff Noon end of the spectrum. Descriptions of life in Saudade, the suggestions of the zone that are worked throughout the book, before the reader actually enters the zone towards the end, feels claustrophobic and disorientating from our point of view, almost like Mark Z Danielwski's House Of Leaves expanded to take over a planet.

At times Nova Swing feels plotless, rambling, lacking in a linear logic. Undoubtedly this will put readers off; this is not a work for everyone. But damn, Harrison has such a way with words, something which he has developed over his long career, as evidenced in so much of his short story work in recent times (like Light before, there are parts of Nova Swing that are expanded from shorts, that make references to the shorts). With Nova Swing it is the sense of the words, the feel, the texture, the way they get into my head and make me experience his vision, which makes this such an enjoyable reading experience.


Venue:Mono, Glasgow, Tuesday 15th May 2007

After the Icelandic Dance company's Mysteries of Love, and Hafdis Huld at the Arches, I find myself at my third Icelandic event in less than a week, and none of them were connected either. This time it is the turn of Amiina, who have added an extra "i" to their name since I first came across them. Amina toured as support and collaborators to fellow Icelanders Sigur Ros. Though not having been particularly interested in Sigur Ros till Taak that was something I missed out on. Instead it was their inclusion in the film Screaming Masterpiece, a documentary about music in Iceland, that brought them to my attention. After which I picked up their 4 track EP Animanima.

Apparently Amiina played Glasgow 2 years ago, that performance then being only their third performance ever. Back now to promote their album Kurr they are doing a small headline tour of Europe. Though Kurr isn't available in the shops yet, the debut album is available from their website, or from seeing them live. The disc coming in a novel, card sleeve, which gives the impression of opening a note book.

Unsure of when the gig actually started, I finally found a listing saying that "doors opened" 8.30pm, while at the same time saying that online tickets were sold out. The gig was held in Mono, my favourite bar in Glasgow, though ironically I have never been in to see a band (though had seen a number at the now defunct sister bar Stereo). Mono, formerly the site of a Mexican restaurant, is a vegan bar/restaurant with in-house Indy record shop Monorail. Being familiar with the venue, I arrived about 8ish, bought a couple of CDs in the record shop along with a ticket for the gig. So that as the promoters were going round the venue, ensuring that everyone already "in" had a ticket, bought a ticket, or left, I did have a ticket in hand to be exchanged from a big red cross on the back of my hand.

I found myself a stool by the bar, and feeling a little tired, I had them ply me with a steady stream of caffeine. Which I drank over the course of the two support bands. Both played short sets, both solo, male, guitarists. The first sat down, playing singer song writer stuff, fair enough, with points from the cults fans by finishing on a piece inspired by The Prisoner. The second stood pretty much with his back to the audience, the line between him tuning up and starting playing being one that was easily missed, his instrumental work being downplayed and understated.

The stage was packed with gear, and a handful of seats, the reasons for which became clear when the four Icelandic girls took to the stage. Throughout the set, often several times in each piece, the girls would switch instruments, tip-toeing from place to place, avoiding bumping into anything. Throughout Amiina played quiet, delicate music, only really becoming "loud" towards the end of the set. People came to the bar and whispered their orders; the staff had an oil can out, trying to get out the squeak from toilet doors.

Buying Kurr after the band finished, on my way out the door, I wasn't really familiar with most of the material that they played in the set which was just over an hour long, though I did recognise at least 3 of the 4 tracks from the EP. Though the new material isn't far from expectations, combining cello, violin, guitar, banjo, chimes, bells, xylophone, saw blades, and whatever other toys come to hand with laptops and a couple of other pieces of electronic equipment to produce gentle melodic music. Which, while I know some people who would hate it, I find to be pleasingly nice, soothing and enjoyable.

Just as their music is quiet, so are the girls. Thanking the audience for being here, explaining about how the last time had been their third gig, how the last gig they played their equipment had got wet from the rain but seems to be OK now - all spoken at an ear straining level. The last track they play translates as "Birthday Song", a quirky little piece, particularly featuring programmed beats and moments of electronic oddity, coupled with one of them using a large saw as an instrument. Coming back on stage for an encore, there is some shared laughter, all 4 sitting with a saw and bowing them while flexing the blades, or striking them xylophone beaters. This last piece is droney and as down beat as the rest of the set, though they take turns giggling and losing control as the silliness gets to them. That done, they leave stage to enthusiastic applause, and start setting up a stall to sell their wares - CDs, 12"s, t-shirts, and tote bags.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Headliner:Hafdis Huld
Support: Billy Sturrock, Lou Hickey
Venue:The Arches, Glasgow, Friday 12th May 2007

Icelandic singer Hafdis Huld had originally being going to tour in February, but had to cancel due to illness, much to her frustration. According to her biography, Hafdis was entertaining the neighbours with her own "circus" at the age of 10, and was a founder member of the Icelandic indie band Gus Gus. Dirty Paper Cups is her debut solo album, and one with which she has been doing support gigs, so that this current rescheduled tour is her first solo headline tour.

A seated gig, the Arch where i most recently saw Yann Tiersen, has been filled with tables and chairs for the audience, though between bands they play music by Tinariwen, the band I saw here prior to Tiersen. There are two support bands, both of whom are local acts. The first is Lou Hickey, who is already on stage when I arrive, playing keyboard and singing, accompanied by her friend Susan on cello, though apparently they normally play with a full band. They have a decent pop sound, combining careful piano and cello melodies without over doing either. There are moments of quirkiness that suggest a potential for more, though certainly Lou comes across as having a charismatic stage presence. Certainly more so than the solo singer/guitarist that follows her, who plays fairly generic pop-rock, with occasional moments that could be comparable to other contemporary pop singers, though without the quality.

Hafdis Huld took to the stage in a pink top, short skirt and glittery ruby heels, a trashy pixie princess. Joined by Sarah Croft on keyboard, and Alisdair Wright and Steve Ling playing guitars, ukulele, xylophone and banjo. The music is quirky and charming, pure pop, with that wit and wacky lyricism that amuses me so. Like "ice cream is nice, monsters are not", and so on. Through the night the band play 11 out of the albums 13 tracks - including the singles Diamonds On My Belly, Tomoko, and Ski Jumper, videos for all of which can be found online in various places. At the point that Hafdis cancelled her previous tour she was sent a Hafdis ragdoll to cheer her up, by a girl from Glasgow. During Ski Jumper the doll maker appeared, wielding a ski jumper doll, which Hafdis waved around during the rest of the song, before propping the doll up at the front of the stage and grinning with delight for sometime after.

The atmosphere from the set up was a curious thing, only one person standing in front of the stage, while everyone else was seated around the hall. Though certainly that one person made enough noise to attract Hafdis's attention, with her seeming by turns amused and intimidated. Regardless the rest of the audience were appreciative of the music, and the funny little stories she told between each song. Disappointingly, they had no merchandise for sale - and I have been unable to find her album locally, but while I was tempted to pick it up before the gig, I was sufficiently motivated to order it afterwards.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Event:12th May - Hafdis Huld - The Arches, Glasgow
Event:15th May - Amina - Mono, Glasgow
Event:18th May - Import/Export - The Tramway, Glasgow
Event:25th May - KinderTotenLieder - The Tramway, Glasgow
Event:27th May - KTL (Stephen O’Malley of SunnO))) & Peter Rehberg of Pita) - Nice'N'Sleazy, Glasgow
Event:15th June - Cocorosie - The Arches, Glasgow
Event:25th June - Deerhoof - ABC, Glasgow


Title:Mysteries Of Love
Artist: Erna Ómarsdóttir/ Jóhann Jóhannson
Venue:The Tramway, Glasgow, Friday 11th May 2007

Mysteries of Love is the second in the series of dance pieces on at the Tramway in May. This time from the Icelandic Dance company, who did last year's We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR. With choreography by Erna Ómarsdóttir and music composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, Mysteries of Love is a stripped down piece for two performers. Though for all that, it matches last weekend's VSPRS at times for sheer ferocity and mania. The stage is a vast open space, at the back there are a couple of instruments set up, on one a piano, on the other a keyboard. The piece starts with a pianist playing a nice piece on the piano, with two women dressed as little girls, long pink dresses, holding hands and singing nursery rhymes.

Then the lights go out, and things start to get twisted. The blonde lies in front of the piano, unmoving, the brunette laughs, cries, grunts - howling. Before the throws herself a round the stage, at one point her hips convulse as though she is giving birth to the devil - her head rolling around, grinning, laughing screaming, her eyes stare, her tongue emerges. So it goes.

By turns sweet, and innocent, by turns horrific and a little frightening. The girls run round the stage, hands clasped, singing, taking turns to look at the audience - smiling in a knowing fashion. They grasp at each other with awkward passion, arms wrapping round each other, though hands won't close and there is a brain damaged awkwardness to the motion that goes further than childish imitation.

A sign warns that the piece will include strobe lights. The pianist returns to the stage, this time playing the keyboard, layered rock sounds coming out. The blonde sings the original nursery rhyme in a club rock fashion, the brunette dancing, though being shoved to the ground any time she gets too close. Strobe lights lash out at the audience, with an intensity that is blinding. More laughing, screaming, rolling around the floor like the dead girls from The Ring or The Grudge. Before culminating in a blistering rock number, 2 guitarists coming out on stage - the brunette howls about beauty, about being sexy, grinding death metal vocals, the blonde doing cartwheels while holding a knife in each hand. The brunette's lipstick smeared across her face, her teeth, the blonde stabbing herself in the head while twitching like a broken toy.

By turns endearing and horrifying, with a certain amount of humour as things attain ever increasing levels of ridiculousness.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Title:The 50/50 Killer
Author: Steve Mosby
Publisher: Orion

December 3rd, the weather is taking a turn for the worse; it is Mark Nelson's first day as a police officer. Joining the team of Inspector Mercer, who has a distinct reputation for murder investigations, but replacing his dead predecessor will not be easy. However, being late for work is not the way to make a best first impression. Especially not when he turns up at the office to find that the team are already out - a man has been killed in his home. Caught on the back foot, Mark is going to have one of those days, there are hints that this killing relates to a previous killing, but Mark just doesn't know enough to understand the glances, the comments, the clues.

As the day goes on he learns, he learns about the 50/50 Killer. A handful of couples have gone through traumatic experiences, the devil has come to their home, tied them up, and tested their love for each other. A test that mainly involves torture and mutilation, and in the end death for one half of the couple. Kevin, the dead man, was involved with Jodie, who was cheating on her boyfriend Scott. Kevin's death is a change of tactics for the killer, the most obvious move will be that he will move on to the couple - torturing them over night, till a decision is reached by dawn, and one of them will die. The search starts, but when a naked, beaten, one-eyed man is found staggering out of the woods, it seems that Scott has escaped from the devil, but in doing so he just condemned Jodie to death.

The 50/50 Killer is Steve Mosby's third novel - following on from his debut The Third Person and his last novel The Cutting Crew. Again it is a bit of a crime hybrid novel, though the sense of the other is reduced more with this piece, none of the pseudo future/alternate reality city that crept into the previous works. Though The 50/50 Killer is a lot more taut and charged than the previous novels, going for that 24 approach, by setting a deadline from the start. Ticking down, hour by hour towards dawn, tension building, red herrings and false leads mounting up. Mosby does include some sense of the other here, the killer is always reported by the survivors as being the devil, an idea that he plays with - making it clear that really it is a man in a mask, but still offering us the doubts and superstitions of rational men to suggest he is perhaps more.

Throughout I had a certain sense of where things were going, coming to conclusions before the characters did - though this was more down to an intuition, rather than an authorial clumsiness that some writers can fall into. There was one part that wasn't sitting right with me as I read it, though I was too busy turning the pages to work out why, So that that was one twist that did hit me when the reason finally became clear.

Since coming across The Third Person, published as part of a low priced offer to promote new crime writers, I have been impressed by Steve Mosby's work. Keeping track of his subsequent work, and eagerly picking up The Cutting Crew and now The 50/50 Killer at the earliest opportunity. The biggest disappointment with Mosby is that he just doesn't seem to better known, that book shops seem to get a token couple of copies on first publication, and then never replace them when those quickly sell. With The 50/50 Killer, Mosby remains very readable, shifting the focus into a higher pace, and offering a greater sense of brutality at the core of the work.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Artist: Les Ballets C. de la B

Found this brief clip on YouTube, its not brilliant, but it gives some idea of how the piece felt.


Artist: Les Ballets C. de la B
Venue:The Tramway, Glasgow, Friday 4th May 2007

Each weekend in May, Glasgow’s Tramway are putting on a different event, the first of these is VSPRS put on the Belgian company Les Ballets C. de la B. The piece is put together by Alain Platel and Fabrizio Cassel, and takes the music of Claudio Monteverdi’s Maria Vespers as a starting point. The music is updated, given a more modern, jazzy feel, and performed live on stage by 9 musicians and a soprano singer. They perform on a platform which is built into the stage set - a colossal thing, a ragged white mountain, like a massive ice berg, the texture of which is made up of rags, which can be used as hand holds for scaling the face of this thing. Add to this we have 10 dancers, who go through physical extremes and contortions in a piece which is an exhausting hour and a half long.

As much as the music, the piece is inspired by films by psychiatrist Dr Arthur Van Gehuchten. So that VSPRS traces the lines between varying degrees of mania, from religious ecstasy through mental illness, with a dash of sexual frenzy. Going in, with only a brief description of what to expect, which didn’t really sum up what was about to happen, I didn’t know what I was seeing. A man destroys a loaf of bread in his eagerness to eat it, while a man in a suit contrasts this action with slapstick dancing, pulling funny faces, putting on a caricature of machismo. But while they do this, there are other people coming in late, taking seats in the audience - strange and intense people, with a funny look in their eyes. So that the undercurrents start to become clear from early on. The staring eyed woman sitting in front of me suddenly stands - “Batman!” she shouts, followed by a stream of heroes and monsters, charging on to the stage, glaring from beneath a furious mono brow. Another woman comes down from the top of the mountain while this happens, she points at members of the audience, beckoning them to the stage, picking out the plants.

From there we have a sense of constant motion. Ranging from two people on stage going through routines, up to all 10 dancers, or even points where the band comes into the same space and you have 20 people all doing things. At times there is a sense of someone going through a routine, of standard dance motions, transformed as the body twitches at inconvenient moments. Dancers stand around, bodies convulsing, heads lolling, eyes rolling. The cast is made up of Belgian, French, Korean, New Zealand and Scottish dancers - so we go from the New Zealander in the suit, through the Scottish woman singing “Donald Where’s Your Trousers?” while fighting against her own trousers and becoming increasingly distressed. In fact Iona seems to be something of the wild card of the group, almost always present, somewhere on the stage, while something else happens - people go through their personal motions, while she gathers rags at the back of the stage to form a nest, or hangs from the under hang of the mountain doing loops, or even getting to a point where she charges the audience - getting three or four rows deep, clambering across chairs, her feet on their backs, her hands finding shoulders to propel her forward.

VSPRS is an incredibly intense and physical performance. At first I was a little wary, since it was a “ballet” company, and my experience of ballet has been disappointing, this however was entirely something that was to my taste - something chaotic and busy, something where you never know what is going to happen next, where there is so much for the eye to keep track of, and so many people are just in such physical condition that they can achieve the things they need to do to bring this event to life. In the end as people are carried from the stage, there is something exhausting, something traumatic about VSPRS in it’s entirety.

On the way out we are handed a sheet of A4 paper, an invitation to come back the next day to see a film about VSPRS - “Show and Tell”, a documentary about the piece, filmed while it was performed in Avignon. A sunny Saturday afternoon, people wandering through the Tramway’s Hidden Garden’s, having lunch in the café - I got there early, to do exactly that. Strange to see one of the dancers sitting doing the same, as I sit, eat, read, drink coffee and have cake, other dancers and musicians filter in to the vast space that is the Tramway. Time comes round, and I filter into the same hall I had been in last night, the same hall only a week or so ago I had been in to see Neubauten. The number of punters is minimal, to think I wondered whether it would be too busy to get in. But the experience is instead made stranger - this is the incomplete film, none of the company have seen this either - so there are 20-30 people making up the rest of the audience who are actually from the company.

Watching Show And Tell, we get a greater insight into the performance. We see some clips from the films that inspired the work, some of the photographs. We see many of the dancers talking about the work, about how they felt about it, the director talking about what he puts them through. And afterwards there is a conversation about the film, about the production. Coupled with the program that was on sale for the performances, full of pictures and commentary on each person involved in the production provided by the producers , the whole VSPRS thing felt like an experience.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Photo:Election day in Glasgow: May 3rd 2007

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Title:Spook Country
Author:William Gibson

William Gibson talks about his forthcoming novel Spook Country in a newly posted video interview on his site.

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