Live Report: DRILL Festival, Brighton, December 4th-7th

Drill: Brighton

Previously held as one-off events in London and Seattle, Drill Fest lands in Brighton this year, promising five nights of music spread across a variety of venues big and small. As with the city’s Great Escape Festival, there is much hotfooting around town between shows and quite a few tough choices to be made when it comes to lineup clashes. It’s an eclectic mix of acts from the ever burgeoning local scene, topped with more established international artists. Despite the impressive lineup, the festival seems quite undersold, with many shows well below the audience capacity expected of bigger acts. Perhaps due to the event’s lack of promotion (many of my finger-on-the-pulse friends had no idea it was even taking place) or the relative proximity to the pricy holiday seasons? There’s a healthy variety of music on display with everything from delicate acoustic ponderings to post punk grandeur and much more besides. For the purposes of this review, I happily sidestepped the swathes of psych infused indie bands and focused my attentions on a few choice cuts of ‘weird and/or heavy.’

These New Puritans

These New Puritans

These New Puritans have been on my list of must-see bands since falling totally in love with the glorious Field of Reeds album last year and the more recent Expanded live release. The addition of guest musician Graham Sutton (Bark Psychosis) on laptop, keys and guitar was a welcomed surprise and rare treat not to be missed. So I was pretty excited at the prospect of seeing them in the relatively small Audio and arrived uncharacteristically early to avoid the inevitable queues and find a good spot. This turned out to be totally unnecessary as there were barely 50 people in attendance. Fifty!? It was hard to fathom and judging by the band’s less than engaging performance, they were a little perplexed too. To be honest, I sympathised a little. The undoubted highs of performing and releasing the Expanded show must make performing to a handful of pilgrims, on a wet Thursday night in December, a bit of a comedown. Still, a little enthusiasm wouldn’t go amiss. As good as the songs sounded, the energy was clearly lacking and they didn’t ever really hit their stride for long enough. A pulsing ’3000′ throbs and oozes menace but it’s the only track that really works in this setting. ‘Organ Eternal’ (disappointingly the only song they play from Field of Reeds) fails to soar and a reworked ‘Drum Courts’ does little to spark the crowd into life. They close with an excellent ‘Where the Trees are on Fire’ but it’s all too little too late. (6/10)

The Physics House Band

The Physics House Band

Local up and comers, The Physics House Band, has seen a steady rise over recent years that has been hard to ignore. Their excellent debut LP Horizons/Rapture only hints at the sonic heights the trio regularly reach live, and Drill Fest is no exception. The instrumental blend of jazz fusion, progressive rock, and post rock is delivered with a focused bruising pure punk intent, and a level of intensity from drummer Dave Morgan that is really quite astonishing. If the ghost of Keith Moon was in the room I’m certain he’d have been intimidated. A trip to A&E to patch a spurting hand wound can wait. They swagger their way through ‘Electric Frontier’, ‘Teratology’ and ‘Surrogate Head’ and the forty-minute set is over all too quickly. Early Mars Volta is perhaps all too easy a comparison and a bit of an old chestnut now but in truth it’s only one part of the jigsaw. To my ears, at least, the influence of Mahavisiu Orchestra and Don Cabellero can be found in equal abundance and this is no bad thing. No bad thing at all. (9/10)

Three Trapped Tigers

Three Trapped Tigers

Three Trapped Tigers open their set with the dazzling ‘Cramm’ and never really take their foot off the throttle. Choice cuts ‘Creepies’ and ‘Noise Trade’ from the Route One or Die album follow, before they unleash the only new material of the night. It’s a highly impressive piece that, like much of their oeuvre, is both familiar in pulse and melody, and yet completely of another planet in terms of arrangement and interplay. So, album two is shaping up nicely then. There’s a solitary track from the earlier EPs but frankly, it sounds as fresh and futuristic as anything in the set. A punishing ‘Drebin’ glitches and swells in the kaleidoscope lighting before the cacophonous  ‘Reset’ brings proceedings to a close. Blimey! The real joy of Three Trapped Tigers is that, aside from the virtuoso musicianship, they are a genuinely forward thinking and progressive rock band that isn’t taking its cue from ‘70s ‘capery’ and instead from the likes of Warp Records, Fripp & Eno and Stravinsky. It’s bold and completely refreshing. (9/10)

Goblin

Goblin

Now, I won’t claim to know a great deal about Italian horror movies from the ‘70s, but the vast compositional shadow of Claudio Simonetti and Goblin was reason enough to break my B movie cherry. Goblin perform their 1977 soundtrack to the classic Suspiria in the wonderful, albeit slightly overbearing, St Bartholomew’s Church. It’s a cavernous space with bare brick walls stretching up into the darkness and a huge golden cross looming over the stage and projection screen. The film is a Technicolor delight that doesn’t skimp on the graphic or gory and much to my surprise, I genuinely enjoy it. Dario Argento’s vivid, hyper-real colouring is visually stunning and even the slightly bizarre storyline doesn’t diminish the experience at all. For their part, Goblin play tightly enough and bring all the tension and menace of the original soundtrack to life without overshadowing the movie. It is however, hard not to notice that there are essentially three main movements being repeated and inevitably this makes the performance a tad plodding and stately by the end. Still a lot of fun though. (7/10)

Zu

Zu

Zu are the kind of band I’d describe as ‘Righteous!’ Having seen them a number of times over the years I’ve never failed to be impressed by their tightly coiled barrage and unapologetically muscular delivery. Basically, they’re right up my street. In fact, they seem to be right up many people’s streets as they draw easily the most eager and receptive crowd of the weekend. Not bad for 3.30pm. The show itself is slightly less exacting in it’s precision than usual but this is perhaps understandable given the raft of new material in the set and the relatively long absence since the completion of the Carboniferous touring cycle. Massimo Pupillo’s basslines twist and throb against the lush swathes of Luca Mai’s guttural baritone sax-work and the addition of new drummer Gabe Serbian (The Locust) is a masterstroke. Today he appears to be on a one-man mission to beat his kit through the stage floor and into the bar below. It is inspired perspiration. (8/10)

The band on pretty much everyone’s lips all weekend is Swans. Michael Gira and co’s reputation for loud, intense, shamanistic live shows is well founded and with good reason. The six strong band open with an enveloping wall of noise that works it’s way into every corner of The Old Market venue. It’s rhythmically loose but utterly punishing and those with hangovers are in no doubt that salvation isn’t to be found here. As the first track concludes, Gira asks that the house lights be brought up and left on. Presumably so the band members can take in the death throws of their victims like a sadistic hunting mob. All very brazen and macho. All very Swans. Subsequent tracks are far more heavy on structure but still unrelenting in their repetitive immersion and sonic intensity. This, it has to be said, does get a little grating at points and dare I say boring in others. Considering the thick blankets of noise and intense invocations coming from the stage the sound is surprisingly coherent and well mixed. Subtler tones of handmade violin, tubular bells and trombone are rarely left wanting, nor dragged into the murky depths and this is an important counterpoint to the general lack of rhythmic inventiveness in the set. Gira’s chants and howls gather intensity throughout as does the increasingly powerful sweeping motions he makes with his arms. It’s hard not to interpret these in ornithological terms and I guess that’s kind of the point. He really is an intensity to behold. The much-anticipated collaboration with Wire is, in truth, a bit underwhelming and thankfully not long enough to sully the previous ninety-minute spectacle. I had been expecting a more substantial effort given the musical forces at work but the reality was more a ten-man jam than anything else. Just don’t tell Gira I said that as I fear he may in fact be Satan. Hail! (8/10)

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