THE SPIRIT of youth rebellion is alive and well and still living in Brighton. Late tonight, a baying mob will try to charge the doors of a Baptist church. To see Pram. We are not making this up. For, today, Britain’s most fashion-conscious seaside resort sees a perverse re-enactment of its legendary ’60s clashes between mods and rockers.
The combatants? The massed forces of post-rock and cutie; the chinstrokers vs the hairslides; half of Stereolab and some Germans up against Bis and twee icon Jad Fair. This is the Brighton Crawl: 20-odd bands, not a single one signed to anything approaching a major label; six venues; slightly overpriced tickets; and what amounts to the EC fanzine mountain to wade through. Six hours before the shit hits the Pram, though, it all begins rather inauspiciously.
CREST are, almost uniquely here, neither what will lazily be stereotyped post-rock, nor cutie. Nope, Crest are slow-fi (keep up, trendspotters) and their rickety state is not much helped by a gig boasting the acoustics and all the atmosphere of a soundcheck. Their Norwich compadres Magoo don’t take sides either, coming as close as anyone does today to ‘proper’ rock with a frazzled racket that recalls the Warm Jets flirting with the Mary Chain.
More generically pure are FRIDGE, if only because almost everything they do has been done much better by Tortoise in the past few years. Ditto HEFNER, setting back the cutie cause with songs about medieval rape sung by a man with the charisma of a bedwetter. Add to all this one of today’s most eagerly awaited bands, The Electric Sound Of Joy, not turning up (singer gone AWOL), bands swapping time slots, and several more not getting soundchecks and you have all the ingredients of a classic indie shambles. Bear with us, though: matters improve.
The cavalry arrives in the shape of D|sseldorf’s KREIDLER, possibly the best of the new German bands currently exploring the post-rock/electronica interface. All bass, drums and squelching keyboards, they transcend stereotypes by being anything but po-faced – people are dancing, for God’s sake. A bit, anyway. PLONE, meanwhile, newly signed to Warp and part of the fertile Birmingham scene that birthed Pram and Broadcast, mix cranky old analogue gear with fancy new computers for some exemplary space-age exotica. Very nice.
NOVAK are part of the same Brum massive. They occupy a strange place in today’s conflict, weaving toy pianos, Disney story tapes and an ickle-gurl singer together with sweeping Mercury Rev-style repetition. They are, if you like, the sublime peacemakers between the two warring factions – currently gearing up for a climactic battle on the seafront. In The Honey Club, then: post-rock’s finest – TURN ON, an easy-going collective of Stereolab, High Llamas and Moonshake members. In the Concorde (usually home to the Big Beat Boutique): cutie’s most celebrated and simultaneously reviled band, BIS.
It’s a fair scrap. Turn On’s long, unfurling instrumentals make the unlikely concept of math-funk seem like a good idea, deploy a banjo without shame and end – after being told to by their manager – with Tim Gane playing one of the 27 keyboards onstage with his head. Bis, down the beach, marry an arsenal of incendiary new disko-punk tunes to classic cutie war cries with limb-flailing results. Sci-Fi Steven even raps. It’s quite remarkable.
Honours shared by the champions, then, with an overall victory to post-rock on points. At which point everyone repairs to Gloucester Place Baptist Church for a no-smoking, alcohol-free knees-up where Pram are playing… which barely anyone can actually get into. There is disgruntlement. There is some – fairly polite – shouting, and minor pushing. There are a load of fans and bands with nowhere to go, and a perceptible sense of anti-climax that begins to overshadow what has been an audacious and often excellent day of music. This has not been fake DIY, after all.
Kitty Empire & John Mulvey