Although tonight was a four-band bill (including The Nine - improved live presence with the introduction of a guitarist on stage, and Mechanical Cabaret doing their contemporary Soft Cell thing), I was really here for just two reasons - Greenhaus and Attrition. Both bands share an unusual approach to composition, Attrition the old masters of the scene (having been around since the dawn of the 80s) and Greenhaus the new blokes on the block.
These three hip dudes were not quite as techno/dance-minded as I seemed to remember. I'd only seen them once before, but was impressed and curious to hear more. Hunched over their equipment - an assorted array of small boxes with lots of cables spewing out of them, a couple of synths and some electronic drum pads - Greenhaus unleash their beats and it keeps on rolling until the end of their set. It's an odd but distinctive noise too. Unlike anything else directly. I was thinking of Underworld, Leftfield and Empirion when I saw them before. But my ear must have been more attuned this time around because whilst the road they travelled zipped past some of those reference points, they didn't pause to dwell on them.
This was more experimental than my memory gave it credit for. A driving backing track with samples dropped in live (CDs popping in and out of a player throughout the set), spoken voices, jumbly beats with layer upon layer of sound snippets and live synths holding it all together. This was clever stuff, intelligent but not 'serious', indeed even tongue-in-cheek at times. Smoking fags, drinking Bacardi Breezers, unassuming T-shirts and jeans, sneakers and uneventful hairstyles - Greenhaus are an unpretentious and cool bunch of guys. Their objective live seems to create a buzzing atmosphere rather than getting the audience dancing to a chart-bound beat. And it worked because they danced anyway.
It could be seen as audacious to use music from 2001 (on the wonderfully-entitled A Bass Odyssey) but they pull it off. The siren-like synths and pounding drums that kick in don't disappoint. By the end of their set, they'd drifted into the outer boundaries of industrial noise - making it further difficult to pin down their sound with a convenient label. Greenhaus themselves call their music techno. But that doesn't capture it at all. If all techno were as inventive as this then there'd be a lot more of it in my record collection. No, 'techno' isn't sufficient enough to cover the territory that Greenhaus are exploring and I won't even try to offer up an alternative. Simply check out their debut release, due before the end of the year, and experience for yourself the Greenhaus effect.
Attrition and I go back along way. I picked up their 1985 album, Smiling, at the Hypogonda Club, when it was released and was perplexed and intrigued in equal measure. Then lost touch with the band for over a decade only to rediscover them better than before. Impressed with the staying power of core member Martin Bowes, I began to keep track of them - going as far as flying over to Hamburg for a long weekend to see them and In The Nursery at the Markethalle in 1998. The one thing that Attrition have in common with Greenhaus before them is the unexpected. Not least in their front man Martin Bowes. On stage his can be an unsettling, even disturbing presence. Towering like Frankenstein's monster, dressed in black with white hair atop his long, thin body, Bowes is one of the most captivating lead singers I've ever seen. His bizarre, close encounters with microphone stands are the stuff of legend.
Strolling on stage, inhaling on a joss stick like it was a cigarette holder, Bowes slowly makes his presence felt. He emerges from the smoke and purges himself of the opening lines of Acid Tongue in his distinctive voice, which wavers somewhere between bubbling grumble and the outpourings of an inmate of an insane asylum. And like such a patient, you never know what to expect of this band live. Songs regularly undergo such a transformation (and seemingly never the same changes twice) that it can take until the chorus is reached before you realise what you are listening to. With over 10 albums to their name, Attrition have a lot of back catalogue to draw from when playing live. Tonight's set took in everything from the aforementioned Smiling, at the Hypogonda Club (Mind Drop) through their nineties dread-leaden dark electro to their latest album The Jeapordy Maze. Early 80s electro beats jostling with tour de force percussion programming and unforgettable vocals.
Experimentation with his own voice and the voices of others has long been a trait of Bowe's work and there's no skimping on this aspect live. From the deep-spoken, almost disembodied voice of Martin Bowes to the operatic drama of Christine Reid. At times her voice threatening to go into military sound weapon territory of the Kate Bush song "The Voice". Dramatic, traumatic, ecstatic all sound like typical Attrition lyrics but they are also words which capture the unique mood that this equally unique band create. Enthralling and exciting, unpredictable and unprecedented, Attrition are one of the jewels in England's musical crown. I look forward to seeing them again, and again, and...