Thirty Thousand Streets

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hackney Techno Robot

London can be really exciting sometimes, in terms of the sheer volume of stuff going on, and its accessability. Quite recently, when I arrived in Central London half an hour early for a meeting one evening, I popped into the National Gallery, and found myself almost giggling with glee at how fun it all was, wandering round looking at these huge old paintings, checking out the tourists on the quiet, listening to a duo on cello and violin who were playing in one of the rooms.

In terms of more contemporary art and culture, London is always going to feel closer to the throbbing pulse of what's considered 'contemporary' and 'relevant'. In fact, the universal quest to be 'really fucking post modern, man' and 'edgy as fuck' has attained such a pitch in areas of the East End and Soho, that it's almost passé, oh irony of ironies.

I have to say though, I'm usually quite up for a bit of pretensious 'Über wank', as long as it's all in the spirit of fun. I come from Stockport y'see, where for me, the most 'underground' I could ever hope for on a Friday night was a lock-in at The Whistling Jig on the A6, with its flypaper-like carpets and seats whose upholstery was waxy with filth (though on karaoke nights there was certainly something quite 'challenging' and 'abstract' about the punter's renditions of poular hits).

Last night was really enjoyable. Sort of unexpectedly so too. I went up to Shoreditch to meet my friend Sam, and was anticipating a pretty standard evening boozing in the East End, perhaps spiced up with some techno, but ultimately wandered into something much more interesting – twice actually, the first time being when we nearly wandered into a face off between two groups of Hackney kids lobbing bottles at each other, but I won't go into that.

Firstly we caught a pizza (not literally) at Furnace, just off Old Street, which was really good – pizza express-ish with a wood fired oven. I'm constantly bemused by how crap most pizza joints are. I couldn't care less about the authenticity of pizzas – nobody talks about authentic, 'British' sandwiches – but like sandwiches, it can be a pretty unforgiving medium if you stint on ingredients. It's never going to be absolutely mind-blowing food, but extremely tasty if made well. These were really good, and I'd go back.

After that we hiked to a studio up in Hackney, where we were told, there was a gig. It was in a performance space on the second floor of an old office/factory complex, which doubled as someone's flat – a bit like a down-at-heels arty version of The Loft. There was a load of keyboards and the ubiquitous powerbook DJ, and we basically stood about jawing and swigging Heineken until, about half an hour later, the performance began.

The first act was a guy dressed as a robot in silver-painted boxes and tubes, who wandered out of the bathroom to play industrial noise on a pair of bust up keyboards, whose guts were spilling out in loops of cable. I couldn't quite work out what he was doing, but apart from playing the odd snatch of melody on the keys, I think he was largely manipulating the sound by altering the connections between these and the amps, and soldering them live. Ocassionally, amidst the grinding cacophany, he'd break off and wander into the audience to hand out fizzy sweets and affix springs to people.

Oddly, though it all appeared quite humorous and sweet, the overall effect was actually slightly unsettling – like having a mute 1980s Doctor Who monster in our midst.

After that, there was a break, where I ran to the offy, and returned just in time to catch a guy in a tie-dye jacket playing a solo set of African music – some traditional – on an electric guitar. He also had some kind of effects pedals, and marracas taped to his feet. Sounds kind of cheesey, but he really won everyone over as it was generally quite lovely, accessible music.

After that, more music, and I boozed and chatted, with some people I kind of know, and some I didn't, until around two, when I bounced, to read the last of Robert Harris's period ripsnorter Pompeii on the 35 home.

It was a really cool night... low key, but exciting enough to remind you why you'd want to live in London in the first place. I need to get involved in more stuff like this, so if anyone's running any under-subscribed 'happenings' round these parts, holler at me and I'm there.

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