Reviewed by: Josh Meggitt
Reviewed: 14 October, 2006
Venue: Hippodrome, Leicester Square, London
The two-day Frieze Music Festival attempted to provide an aural equivalent to London’s annual Frieze Art Fair, now in its fourth year. The Art Fair has become quite an event on the international art calendar, further bolstering London’s already firm standing as a major art city, so one might have expected a similarly powerful and provocative musical program. As Saturday’s concert demonstrated, engaging music there was, but the event itself was poorly organised and presented in dire surroundings.
Friday’s schedule promised a broader and more challenging selection of artists: the virtuosic one-man-band antics from Burning Star Core, ritual and shamanism from the 14 female members of Leopard Leg, and Sun O)))’s doom-laden drones from a trio shrouded in incense and cowls made for an uncompromising evening. Saturday offered more straightforward examples of ‘rock’, albeit in skewed and battered arrangements.
The Curtains are a guitar-keyboard-drums trio led by guitarist-vocalist Chris Cohen, more widely known for his work with Deerhoof. With unassuming vocals recalling any number of recent American indie bands, this was the most conventional part of The Curtains sound. Songs commenced invitingly, all pop sheen and gloss, before being plucked apart by abrupt changes in tempo marked by spacious guitar solos, these ending equally abruptly. Thick Stereolab-esque keyboard tones accompanied country rhythms on drums, occasional dribbles of metallophone and the odd vocal harmony, before Cohen went off with jagged guitar lines like Pink Floyd-era Syd Barrett. Elsewhere, guitar harmonics blended with morse-code synthesizer blips before further structural detours were taken.
The following Barr (the work of solo anti-crooner Brendan Fowler and backing tape) was so slight it seemed intermission entertainment, like dancing mascots at sporting events. His confessional dialogues, delivered while sauntering the stage and clambering up speaker stacks, displayed charisma, his rapport with the audience pleasing, but the background muzak, pitched uncomfortably between lounge-cabaret and hip-hop, was devoid of any hook.
Things picked up with San Francisco’s Erase Erata, energized 1970s punk-rock with lyrics lamenting vapid consumerist culture and feelings of political disillusionment. If the sound was overtly revivalist – another guitar-bass-drums three-chord punk-band – it was nonetheless refreshing to see it presented with such enthusiasm. Things did sometimes get a little sloppy, with bass and drums falling horribly out of sync on a couple of occasions, but with charming mid-song audience banter and such jaunty material, Erase Erata’s headlong charge to the finish became infectious.
Berlin-based American-Australian trio Liars offered the most deconstructed take on rock of the evening. Pieces were established and held in check by founding drummer Ron Albertson, a vital anchor, around which frontman Angus Andrew would lead the mutiny with vicious, staccato vocal and guitar stabs, Aaron Hemphill playing additional drums, guitar or, most significantly, fumbling with many of the large effects units which flanked the stage. The lanky, suited Andrew jerked around the stage like an electrified rag doll, his autistic guitar chops recalling Arto Lindsay’s random chords in Marz. There were subdued moments of menace fit for a David Lynch film, whorls of psychedelic guitar, and broken phrases picked up and repeated, concluding suddenly just as some kind of groove seemed to have been established. It all seemed like spontaneous bursts of invention, but that this ramshackle mess was cleverly orchestrated made it all the more inspiring.
It almost would have been better had the performances been terrible, for then we would have had no excuse to make the unpleasant trip to Leicester Square’s hideous Hippodrome. After having lived in Japan for a number of years I am accustomed to expensive beer, but £3.50 for a miniature bottle of Carlsberg Light was the most expensive I’ve ever encountered. Long entrance queues (longer for those on the guestlist) and body searches didn’t help, and when it was over we found ourselves back in … Leicester Square. Good music, terrible event.