I’m stunned by what I experienced last night. Never before have I seen so much talent in one place, so many good bands and cool people in one 24 hour period in one place. The night began slowly of course, and seemed to gradually get larger and larger than life. The first band I saw was called Grimble Grumble from Chicago. They didn’t sound quite as slow, layered and shoegazey as I remembered them sounding from their myspace page, but they were still pretty good, and did have a Spacemen 3 feel at times, only with a female singer. My friend Dan Selzer from Acute Records was there and I found out from him that one of the songs they did was a Faust cover called "It's a Rainy Day (Sunshine Girl)". And the last song they did had a riff that sounded so terribly familiar to me. Luckily Dan was able to identify it as Brian Eno’s “Here Come The Warm Jets” and I realized he was right. That's a fucking amazing song but I always forget it because Eno tacked it on at the end of that album and it doesn't really fit with the rest of it.
After Grimble Grumble were through, DJ’s took over. First song played was the amazing Chills’ “Pink Frost”, a classic of monumental proportions. I also heard some things I hadn’t heard before that piqued my interest and I asked what they were. One was by Gogogo Airheart, and another thing was by the Theoretical Girls but it sounded so much like The Dancing Did to me, only with keyboards. I was puzzled by that because for some reason I thought that band was from NY or something , but it sounded really British. I looked them up online afterward and indeed they were from NY, so I'm even more confused.
I believe the next band to play was an old Boston post-punk band called The Wild Stares. The cool thing about this post-punk festival was that there were two clubs linked together. So if you got bored with what was going on upstairs, you could just go downstairs and vice versa. Well the Wild Stares bored me so I went downstairs and caught the Vivian Girls. I’d checked them out on myspace earlier, and thought I wouldn’t like them, but instead I really enjoyed them. They are an all female band and they reminded me of those really punk-ish songs Lush had when they first started out. I found their energy infectious and was delighted that they weren’t as twee as I thought they’d be. They also had tunes, which the Wild Stares were sorely lacking. My friend Dan said a lot of people were really into them when they played New York, that they seem to be a “trendy band of the moment” kind of thing. Apparently they’ve only just put out their first album this year.
The next thing I remember is the Nightingales started playing upstairs. Unlike Vivian Girls, they've been around since the heyday of post-punk. I’ve tried to get into them in the past and was unsuccessful. Their performance didn't do anything to change my opinion so I went downstairs and that’s when things REALLY started to get good because Medium Medium were playing. Now, a lot of post-punk fans know their song “So Hungry So Angry”. I gave their record a try a long time ago and once again many years later and this band just never caught fire for me. But here they were live and I was utterly and completely amazed. Truly, I wanted to take this band home with me. I wanted to buy a CD but they weren’t even fucking selling any. They absolutely shredded. Guy even had a saxophone. It seemed to me that band were the love child of Gang of Four and Dif Juz. They really reminded me of Gang of Four a lot, actually. Also the stage banter was classic. The singer kept saying “this is a sad song about…” and each time it would be something different but for nearly every song he’d say “this is a sad song about…” and I thought that was so cool, because the reality was the songs didn’t come across sad at all. This band seemed really surprised that so many folks were getting into their music. I guess they had really low expectations and my guess is they haven’t played live much recently, at least in the US. Another cool thing that happened was someone in the audience shouted out “awesome!” in between numbers and the singer said he still couldn’t get his head around that word, that it always sounded like “arse-ome” to him, and I laughed at that.
The next thing that happened was one of the DJ’s started playing this song from a 7” single that I especially liked and totally recognized but couldn’t place, even as I watched it spin around on his turntable. So I asked him and of course it was the song “Watch” from the first Sisters of Mercy single – the song that has a delicious PIL-ish bassline and a singer I believe is someone other than Andrew Eldritch. I’d forgotten how much I love that song because it’s so atypical of Sisters. It doesn't sound a damn thing like Sisters of Mercy.
I decided to go outside to the “smoking area” which was actually cool even though I don’t like cigarette smoke (there wasn’t much of it, as it turned out). While I was there, I looked around at people, and there were many interesting people there but the one that kept getting my attention was a guy against the back wall, quite far away from me, but he had the most amazing Nick Cave shirt and I was dying to see the rest of it because you couldn’t tell what the picture was on it from where I was. So I finally gave in and got courageous enough to go up to him and see it and it was actually a picture of Nick Cave’s face on his side, as though he were laying down. I mean it was very arty, very blown up. And below the picture it said “& The Bad Seeds”. Well I got the nerve to tell this guy that I loved his shirt, that it was really something else and he immediately pointed at my own shirt (dark green New Order “Ceremony”) and said “I really like your shirt too!”. At this point one of the women who was standing in between us said “yeah you guys have cool shirts…did you make them?” Well at that point, I sortof got embarrassed at the attention, looked down at the ground beaming and said “No…” and went back inside. Then I started to feel really, really happy.
The next thing that happened was the band Love Is All was playing downstairs. They are from Sweden. I tried to get into them and they were alright, but I felt they were trying to be as good as Life Without Buildings and they would never get there. I’m sure they weren’t really trying to sound like them, but that’s how I felt. So I went upstairs…
And yet another band blew my mind. I mean completely blew my mind. I had checked them out on myspace earlier in the day and knew I liked them, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw and heard. They are called The Muslims and I would imagine they’re not much over 30 years old but believe me when I say they are the love child of The Fall and the Modern Lovers. I don’t know how in the hell that guy got his guitar to sound like that but I just kept thinking how goddamn proud Mark E. Smith would have been of this lot. They fucking scorched. They were so “no-frills” about it all. No keyboards either. No pretension, no putting on airs, no “I am so hip in my cool clothes” none of that fucking shit. Just raw and damn good post-punk. Also the singer wore a Rudimentary Peni T-shirt, which I thought was cool, though I admit I’ve never actually heard that band to this day and I really want to.
Anyway, the next thing that happened was a rather impromptu portion of this festival, and my friend had told me about it only about a half hour before it transpired. Three pre-pubescent kids got up onstage and played “Teenage Kicks” by the Undertones. I’m not sure who drummed for them because they all played guitars. Maybe the drums were taped, I don’t know. Anyway, it was hard to tell whether the singer was a girl or a boy. Then they asked the audience if anyone knew the lyrics to Buzzcocks’ “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” or The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry”. Well, they asked twice, but no one volunteered. One person near me shouted out that they should go ahead and play and we would sing along. Then an adult came onstage and said “oh come on folks, they’ve worked so hard…” but no one volunteered to sing. So it ended up that one of the kids sang (the one with a giant hip hop cap on) the Buzzcocks tune. Then they finished with TV Personalities’ “Part Time Punks” which made sense because that’s the name of the folks who organized this whole festival. These kids were great, even if they missed a note or stumbled a bit at times. Everyone cheered them on. They said the name of their band was Daytime Television. It was totally rad.
Well, if I’d only seen Medium Medium & The Muslims and these pre-pubescent kids, my mind would have been blown enough for one night, but fate had other plans. Pylon was next. And really what can you say about Pylon? I admit I do get tired of Pylon after a certain amount of time, but still, they’re really masters of the post-punk art aren’t they? At one point, a guy came up on stage and put his arm around the lady singer (I don’t know her name, I’m sorry) and when the song ended, he spoke in the mike at the audience and said “Do you guys wanna have sex?” which was sortof funny, but also sortof stupid. Well the lady singer handled it well, she said “Well, I don’t know what to say, but I’m glad you had a good time.” Eventually I went to the bar again during their set and wouldn’t you know they chose that moment to do the song “Crazy”. And there I was at the bar going completely bananas, couldn’t even bother ordering a drink even though the bartender was ready for me to order, singing that song and wondering how in the hell all these people around me didn’t know that fucking song. And WHY wouldn’t they know it? And HOW could they NOT KNOW IT?? The song REM covered, for fuck’s sake! How could they be at a festival like this and not know that song? So yeah that was amazing. And they did the one that goes “rock and roll now/rock and roll now” which I don’t know the name of but I love it, and I jumped up and down when they did that.
Well, when their set ended, David J. from Bauhaus took over DJ’ing duties. And he started his set with the Obama speech from election night. Then he played some old soul song that talked about “change is gonna come” or whatever. And then he played Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”!!! And I was dancing around to that with joy wondering WHY ALL THESE PEOPLE AROUND ME DON’T KNOW THIS SONG AND HOW DO THEY MANAGE TO LIVE THEIR LIVES WITHOUT KNOWING THIS SONG AND WHY DON’T THEY CARE, ETC. Then he played a reggae tune. And I was amazed because since Obama won the election, I too have been on a reggae trip. At that point I decided to ask him (David J.) a question, but I soon realized he wasn’t going to talk to me, he was just gonna DJ. So I figured “oh well” and went back to the front of the stage.
And then…as if the entire night had not been enough…
A Certain Ratio took the stage. And it was just beyond anything I could have imagined. NO they’re not my fave band in the world, but GOD. Just about bloody close enough you know?? They’re the last ones standing now. The last beacon of Factory aside from Durutti Column. They didn’t even save up their best songs for last, oh no, they did “Do The Du” right away and then “Flight”!! THEY FUCKING DID FLIGHT and I felt as if they were channeling Martin Hannett’s spirit in the fucking room. And they did NEW SONGS, too. Yes! New songs. And these new songs weren’t the dry electronic techno crap I might have anticipated, but actually quite true to their roots, and very dark. It was truly like goth funk. They said they have a new album coming out on Marquee records (a French label I think he said). When I looked at the singer’s face, I realized I wasn’t sure if it was the singer they had circa Graveyard & Ballroom, or the singer they had circa Force/Good Together. So I listened to his voice carefully without looking at the band and realized it was the latter and that made me ridiculously happy because I love the sound of that guy’s voice. I absolutely adore that guy’s voice. He’s called Jeremy (Jez) Kerr. And Martin Moscrop was there. And fucking Donald Johnson. THERE IS NO REASON WHY A DRUMMER OF THAT CALIBER SHOULD EXIST. How is it possible? They also did “Wild Party” which made me so happy. And Tony Quigley with the soprano sax, oh god. And Moscrop did use a trumpet on one song. And last but NOT LEAST…they had this gorgeous black woman singing for them. I didn’t know it at the time, but this lady was none other than Denise Johnson, who also sang on Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica” album and the first two Electronic albums. There was a moment when all the rest of the band were playing and it wasn’t her turn to sing yet and she looked at me (I was in the second row) and we looked at each other for a moment and then we smiled at each other, a bit nervously. I shared a smile with that woman. What wonderful thing did I do in this life to deserve that? What did I do???
There was one song of theirs that is famous that they had her sing the whole thing of pretty much by herself. I think it was "Shack Up", but I’m not positive now. I thought that was so cool. Another cool thing was Tony Quigley had an old faded Rob’s Records T-shirt. I mean god, you’d have to be someone really important to have one of those, eh?
And they ended their set with Joy Division’s “Heart & Soul”. No lie. Part of me objected to this, for it’s pretty hard to make that into an ACR song, but I thought it was neat that there were these parts where they sortof left a tiny little funk stamp on it.
You know, I don’t have any big problems with Section 25, really (and I had the joy of hearing "New Horizon" played by one of the DJ's earlier in the night), but for me personally, A Certain Ratio are really the last ones standing of the greats of Factory records, aside from Vini Reilly. Seeing them at this event, at this stage of the game, in 2008 feels like about as close as I could get to Joy Division, to Hannett, to Wilson, to what I feel is the very best of Factory records. In fact, even though I finally got to see New Order 3 years ago, this ACR gig actually meant more than that to me. I’d never say ACR’s material was as good as the best of New Order, I guess, but…it was clear to me on seeing ACR that they are not past their prime, whereas with New Order I might have said they were, and after all, we know New Order are probably not going to record anymore anyway.
I realize saying all this discounts Vini Reilly to some extent, but for one thing, he isn’t likely to come to America to play!
So yeah, ACR. Now and forever. A new album of dark, goth funk on the way, even. Who’d have thought?