Thursday, 23 February 2012

Don't take the magic away....

[unedited version of a gig review published in The Wire 335 January 2012 issue]

Maria Minerva, Gary War, John Maus
Tufnell Park Dome

Tufnell Park Dome looks like a strange combination of a provincial ballroom, with all its kitschy firemen’s ball lights and stage ready for a brass band, and a former site of political rallying. These days the only crowd it attracts is a good looking, fringed, oh-so-ironic faux-fur and moustache wearing eloquent youth from East London. When I arrive, a long queue of black-wearing tousle-haired youngsters wait resigned outside, because tonight’s show is a sold-out: no wonder, given the line up, that would sex up even an agriculture show in Carpathian village: electrifying songstress Maria Minerva and Ph.D. sex god John Maus. Putting Californian freaks and Ariel Pink associate, Gary War, in the middle, seemed like a gesture of disrupting this too safe hipness of the show consisting of the most-liked acts of this year.

When I come inside, the loud talking of the crowd nearly prevents me from noticing that Maria Minerva already started her set: conceived as half karaoke, half live show, the sound quality is actually so low, that I can barely hear, whas she’s singing. Here’s lo-fi for you. I was preparing myself for something like this. But instead of the usual sexy dressRT and spreading the aura of Eastern European woman-child, she stood there in an oversized hoodie, with newly blond-dyed hair (crisis of personality?), right from Lisbon, where she lives. She seemed tired and insecure, and unnecessarily spoiled the effect of perhaps the most beautiful songs recorded in 2011, there were only two or three songs from Cabaret Cixous, including Soo High, whose chorus Baby baby baby/ You make me so high/ When I'm around you/ Time just flies by sung in a half desperate false note, was all the more painful for someone, who, like me admires her work. Ok, on records she also frequently pays with the notion of detuned/badly recorded/brittly analogue, but here, deprived of some of her sonic toys, stripped bare voice couldn’t deliver the vocal subtleties of the record. Looking detached, she stared at the monitor, which seems to be these days a popular manner of many electronic performers live. What the fuck? Why do I have to ruin hipster spectacle for myself, whenever I turn up? It's insufficient that beer costs 4 L and you have to queue half an hour being pushed and elbowed, you just don't wish to be young anymore. Thing is also, that we don't really interact with each other. At hipster gigs I frequently have this feeling everybody create some kind of network. I know I'm an outsider there, these are not my networks or gigs & they'd run away screaming seeing where I live, but funnily enough - they'd kill for my gig. Was Maria just reading the lyrics? Hard to say, but seems that fresh to scene performances, she must yet negotiate the way she presents herself to the crowd - or get a better soundman. “Half freaky, half Britney”, she was more on the freaky side this time. Otherwise, are we to believe this poor performance like from a coked-up house party, with bored crowd pottering sheepishly from one end of the room to another, is supposed to be a new peak of “I-don’t-care” made in Hackney cool? And to think 2 hours before I got back on a plane from Zagreb, where Maria's idol from Goldsmiths, k-punk, was talking to the hopeful lefties about the importance of Starbucks as a degenerated, fallen public space and radical chic. Here, my EEuropean hope didnt give a fuck about my expectations and wore Fila.

In turn, solitary member of Gary War turned the sleepy crowd onto some serious dancing. Derived half from Ariel Pink’s all-over-the-place sound, mixing the sound of old records, early Animal Collective psychedelia and Cali-punk into a blissed out sound candy, he was equipped only with a guitar, delivering “invisible” drums by a pedal, making it uncanny where the whole wall of sound was coming from. It was an intriguing performance, acting like a manifesto for the whole scene: faceless, with copious curly hair purposely covering the whole face, with lyrics, if any, unrecognizable in the sonic magma, this music has in a sense, nothing to say, if not only to communicate us its playfulness and narcotic flash, id-like death drive joy of astral destruction.

When John Maus got finally on scene, it was obvious, who the public came here for. Must say I feel ambivalent about the whole carefully invented, yet based on “authenticism” Maus persona, who, in spastic, hysterical, nervous-breakdown movements delivers his message to the world - here there are at least lyrics to ponder. There’s perhaps nothing more exciting than a very handsome professor of philosophy and Deleuze specialist doing crazy disco performances, and this is what part of his craze comes from. Starting from Quantum Leap from his album We Must Become Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, he raved the public, and kept them like this for the next 40 minutes too exhausted to continue. Having seen another Maus performance, it’s hard not to believe in the truth of his stage acting-out, as if by his movements he wanted to take out, react to all the conformity and smugness of his public. Giving his madness away (Maniac!) so cheaply, for only 10 L, he must all along realise the hopelessness of the whole project. I’m trying to take Maus seriously, just as he’s taking seriously things he deals with love, pain, beauty. But where is a real suffering or drama of the artist? Is it a sheer attempt at intellectualizing the otherwise quite obvious and banal (music to dance to) object? I can’t find the real drama in Maus, and that stops me maybe from fully enjoying his ecstatic, diverse music. In the end, it’s just too cool for me. Coming back on to Woolwich, I’ve come across yet another Londoner, talking loudly to himself. ‘Care in the community’ they call it. Real madness is no fun, I’m telling you.

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