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Thursday, 4 April 2013

Forget the tunes, give me ferocity

I saw somebody tweet the other day about how they’d been at a particular gig in the 90s. Mogwai, I think. What stuck in my head: the fact that the tweeter described the event as “ferocious”.

Ferocious. Hmm. Is ferocity in music er, a good thing? Actually, much as I love quiet music - and all manner of non-ferocious music-making! - I tend to see ferocity as a positive. At times it’s fierce, ferocious and fiery ... or it’s nothing!

I won’t bang on about all the supposedly in-your-face super-fierce gigs I've been to (one man’s “fierce gig” story is … well, just boring). Instead here are a few observations about how I think some bands thrive on speed, volume, “aggression” or just general intensity. Take that away and they become ... dull. Just another try-hard outfit. A few quick examples:

Speed: Thee Vicars used to be good for speedy garage rock. Also Thee Machine Gun Elephant did this well the time I saw them. But my best in this category: Theee Bat or The Sundae Kups. Both take surf-infused garage rock and speed it up until it starts to disintegrate. Cool!

Volume: yeah, time-honoured and often massively overrated, but I must admit there are times when sheer volume (or perhaps particular kinds of volume) has its place. For example, a Part Chimp gig I went to a few years ago had that wall of noise effect that basically seems to be shaking the entire room. (I had to take a break, retiring to a quiet alcove. It was in the crypt of a de-sanctified church, so luckily there were quite a few ... quiet alcoves). Same with a Tackhead Soundsystem thing I was at in Edinburgh in 1988: stomach-shaking stuff! Also many years ago: Killing Joke. Very loud. Ferociously loud, you might say.

Intensity: bit harder to put your finger on but, in the end, maybe the key thing for true ferocity. Or maybe it’s a case of speed + volume + intensity = ferocity! Never saw ‘em, but The Birthday Party at their peak looked like they got close to this formula. Ones that raised the intensity meter with me have included: Hospitals (bloke on the drums basically pummelling the percussion into submission), a specific Pete & The Pirates gig where their always fairly moody drummer went rather wild with a 25-minute drums-blasted make-over of one of their tunes, Modey Lemon (a blues-ier version of the Hospitals gig basically), and … oh, quite a few really. After all, who can forget that Selfish Cunt gig from ’06 where he chested his way through the slightly cowed audience, Iggy-like, blood smeared on his wiry camp body, spitting at people (including me, direct hit) and sneering as he kicked discarded glasses against the wall …?

Right, stop all this! I’m doing what I said I wouldn’t. Running you through some of my well-remembered gigs, like it … matters which ones I’ve been to or something.

No, this is not quite what I meant to write, but then again it’s hard to capture the thing I’m talking about. I reckon ferocity is crucial in a lot of music - recorded music as well - but it’s not easy to explain. It’s the undefinable something that unites John Lydon’s searing stare at the end of The Sex Pistols' (mediocre) Anarchy In The UK work-out in the Granada So It Goes TV studio in August 1976, and the hyper-kinetic breakcore wildness of WSicko’s Forgotten Memories (to take countless recent examples).

God, “the undefinable something”. I’m reduced to writing that. But hey, you know I’m right….

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