9-12 Middle Street
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Liverpool’s Mugstar have been at the forefront of the UK’s psych rock scene for over 10 years now, having issued their first single ‘Spotlight Over Memphis’ in 2003, their prolific nature has seen them release six albums and 16 EPs, mini albums and 7”s since. On the release of their first single they attracted attention and airplay from the late John Peel and subsequently recorded one of the last Peel sessions before the DJ and music encyclopedia passed away in 2004. Anyone doubting their authenticity can be reassured that these guys were playing this kind of music when namedropping Neu! would have led to a sigh of public indifference, rather than used as evidence of an eclectic record collection by the latest indie chancers. Even by their own standards they have been particularly busy of late and the three albums released between September 2012 and April 2013 (Ad Marginem, Axis and Centralia) indicated a band in the best form of their career.
In common with Manchester’s GNOD, Mugstar’s idea of psych rock is not fixed to one particular style, they channel the European sounds of Ash Ra Tempel, Hawkwind and Can with an ear to the more American Oneida or Bardo Pond and the occasional foray into the Japanese craziness of an Acid Mothers Temple or a Les Rallizes Denudes. They are a thrilling proposition live, equal parts ferocious and mesmerising and often both at the same time. Anyone who enjoyed the Hookworms gig at the Green Door Store last year really shouldn’t miss this.
A strong supporting cast is topped by Brighton’s Jungfrau who are a dark, female-fronted, “psycho-delic” rock band. It’s an excellent description for a four piece band that come across as a combination of Pocahaunted at their darkest, mixed with the feeling of female-fronted dread beloved by Dead Can Dance or Jarboe. Their 2013 release EP 1 is a name your price download at bandcamp and offers 4 tracks which serve as an excellent introduction to the psych/drone experiments of the band.
Vincent Vocoder Voice’s recently released self titled debut album on Brighton’s Sonic Anhedonic Record label (featured as part of Brighton Noise’s 2013 year end coverage) is a really interesting mix that has the same fearless experimentalism as Cardiacs, albeit a Cardiacs that grew up listening to emo. Their first live performance was only in November but initial reports are that they are both conceptually interesting and musically accomplished.
The bill is rounded off by the outsider cool of Fvnerals who play a witchy, doomy, post rock tinged brand of electro pop. Their extremely worthy debut EP The Hoursis available as a name your price download from their website.
This truly was one of those nights that affirms your faith in the brilliance of live music. Consider if you will that it costs nearly £10 to go to the cinema or £25+ to see the mighty Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex. What we had here was a bill with headliners who are masters of their craft and three local supports providing first hand evidence of the amazing health the Brighton music scene is in at the moment, all for six pounds.
Fvnerals’ opening set surpassed the expectations that their impressive recorded material had generated and the positive reactions of the excellent early turnout was testament to this. The four piece are excellent at a musical delayed gratification, with their tracks building from quiet and inauspicious sounding beginnings to magnificent crescendos. With their ethereal yet spooky tunes they are close to Esben and The Witch or Portishead, without being a facsimile of either. Vocalist Tiffany is a star in the making, her voice soars and croons in equal measure and her stage presence perfectly suits the mood of the music, nervously cradling herself with plenty of 1,000 yard stares.
Vincent Vocoder Voice’s self titled debut album snuck out at the end of last year to a ripple of critical acclaim and a laughable assassination from teenage virgin bible Kerrang! The point that all reviews agreed on is that this is definitely a project that is interested in experimentation. With that in mind it was no surprise that this extended to the band, as well as Mr Vocoder Voice, who concealed their identity – with varying levels of success – using masks, balaclavas and face-paint. Perhaps it was due to a lack of familiarity with the source material but it appeared that they received a slightly more muted response than the other bands. However, when they connected such as on “The Unbearable Heaviness of Having” – which sounds like an emo Cardiacs – and its memorable refrain of “Are we just sucking in fibre, blowing out shit” – it showed how fearless and promising this four piece is.
Jungfrau, like Fvnerals, are far more accomplished a live outfit than they are on record. Their EP1 tape suggested a droney, semi-ambient affair, when the truth is that they are a female fronted heavy rock machine bearing similarities to those Sabbath influenced 80s bands like Candlemass or St. Vitus. Their front-woman Hannah Grasskamp demands attention, red wine drinklng and trench coat wearing with a powerful voice that perfectly matches the music. The rhythm section, fundamental to this genre, don’t put a foot wrong, laying down the slow groove foundation for some wonderfully inventive, not traditionally “rock” style guitar. In particular, Luke Dunston’s use of a slide was unmistakable, imaginative and memorable.
Quite frankly it’s scandalous that after 11 years and countless releases Mugstar were playing to a basement room of 100 or so devotees. Not that it seems to bother the band; they show all the hallmarks of a settled line up who produce the music they enjoy making without pretense. It’s psychedelic rock but you could make a genuine case for them appealing to fans of their current tour mates Mogwai, early Spiritualized or current UK psych-de-jour sensations Hookworms. Their’s is a confident performance that at times verges on telepathic with the four piece – consisting of bass of thunder, guitar hero, guitar/keys/vocal maestro and an awe-inspiring drummer – in absolute harmony with each other. Noticeably louder than what had been before they pull off the trick of being rhythmically punishing, whilst melodically hypnotising.
In a bout of modesty halfway through the set they needlessly introduce an untitled song that they are playing out for the first time, asking the crowd for any suggestions on song titles. The reaction of the room suggests that “you fucking nailed it” would have been appropriate. The Scouse titans play for a full hour with the late finish – 11:30pm – meaning the room had noticeably emptied. It didn’t bother me, I would quite happily have had another hour, and I have a feeling Mugstar would have quite happily played it. Simply put, it was astonishing stuff.
Pictures: Agata Urbaniak