Monthly Archives: July 2014

Two people, four fingers

Breaking my backlog sequence here to report on tonight’s To Rococo Rot gig. It was in Dalston, so naturally the fun began in the queue. While we waited, someone was handing out flyers. The couple in front of me declined, the lady saying

I’m trying to cut down on flyers,

apparently on the grounds of information redundancy and freshness/staleness. Whatever the Guardian says, there were still Beards and Moustaches. Someone whom I predicted to be one of the band stood in the road and took a picture of the queue, using his tablet. An unexpected visual preference was expressed behind me:

I normally want to see Tim’s photos, but this time I can’t wait to see the official ones.

Meanwhile someone’s water bottle was from Fiji.

While I’d been to Café Oto before and walked past it a number of times, for instance when watching Tim Key at the Arcola Theatre around the corner, I’d never actually seen a band play there. There were two areas with seats on either flank, with standing all around and in between, and I was there early enough to occupy a chair, like a middle-aged person.

The support act was Standard Planets, comprising a singing drummer, guitarist/vocalist/electronics man and bassist. The drummer grinned when he made a small mistake during one of his singing songs. Their last one was their best, I thought, with its strong arpeggiated ending. The young boy in the family on the row in front of me played games on his tablet throughout, unconcerned by the music. I don’t think we can take that as a comment.

To Rococo Rot started pretty much on time, which is notable, I think. Again a non-standard lineup – drummer, bassist and electronics. Robert Lippok (the latter) had a microphone, for announcements rather than any vocals. He explained that they chose their name because they liked the idea of things rotting towards the rococo state, and that it was pleasing to play at Café Oto, which was also a palindrome…

If I press the right button, the show starts,

he said. He had a Tenori-On, an Ableton Push and what I eventually realised was an upside down monitor, with a small controller keyboard laying on the top/bottom, plus various effects boxes, atop his rack. (In the Old Days, we would always try to work out what gear bands were using – a little less interesting as a pastime now, when often it’s just a laptop). As always (at least for values of ‘always’ including the past 18 months) I didn’t know the songs. I think I last saw them in Manchester, probably 9 or 10 years ago, and haven’t heard much of them since then. During what was probably their best song, the electronics man and the bassist wandered over to the grand piano to the left of the stage and started playing along, each of them contributing two fingers, as we found out later.

It was quite democratic,

said the bassist, though his colleague thought it unequal, owing to the greater power of the low notes:

It was democratic, but shifted.

The bass player (Stefan Schneider) didn’t seem to have any effects pedals, which is extremely unusual. I suppose his style is quite different than the norm, too, fitting in as it does with the chittering throbs and the live drums. The drummer (Ronald Lippok) was super energetic, with some good gurns. Exuberant, in a very controlled way. He couldn’t keep still in the pauses between songs, playing the hi-hat and the cymbals, and he was not flustered when he dropped one of his sticks. The electronics man was quite vigorous with his Tenori-On and the Push pad. Right at the end he picked up his monitor and placed it on its side, so the audience could see what he’d been watching, including the small segment of audio, looping very quickly. He did this for each part of the crowd, fulfilling its tangible curiosity. Of course, the mother in the family I mentioned before held up her tablet at this point, as she’d done quite a lot, the better to take some footage, and the better to obstruct the view of the people standing behind her. Tsk. I think this shows the inherent selfishness of the tablet. Yes.

The songs were all very good, and I even bought the album at the end. It feels much more virtuous to buy albums at gigs, avoiding the record company 10% types. Sad to say, I couldn’t pay extra for the vinyl, because I don’t at present have a turntable. Auto-tsk. The people next to me had been using the record they’d bought during the gap between bands as a cooling fan.

They’re playing again tomorrow (Tuesday), at Rough Trade East. I’m seeing Simon Munnery then, meaning I can’t see them again.


The indignity of the empty room

Towards the fag-end of one of the recent rainy Bank Holidays, I’d wanted to see the exhibition at RIBA about British architects, tied in with the BBC series Brits who Built the Modern World. One of my preferred listings sites showed it as open, but it wasn’t. There was a man nearby, protesting stolidly. When RIBA had a late opening event, I thought I would indeed go along. There was no chance of a mistake there. I hadn’t really planned what I’d do when I arrived, and I attached myself to a tour of the building (later on the guide expressed surprise at the growth in his audience –

You seem to be many more than signed up originally).

On the way, we saw Ken Livingstone, just after he’d propounded his favourite London building. In a large room serving as a café, the guide was (rightly) reluctant to compete in vocal amplitude with a band, particularly as his voice was ebbing a little. One of the rooms we were shown was where the exhibition I’d wanted to see had resided, now entirely empty. Hmmph.

After the tour had finished, I saw someone ask one of the band for advice –

I’m just playing music. I’m not an architect at all. There’ll be somebody here.

The questioners seemed to be in search of architectural work when they did grab a Real Person. He gave them the names of various practices –

They’re not my favourites, but I know they do loads of work. Do you read the journals?

George Costanza would have been proud of this aspirational dedication. Upstairs, above the small exhibition on planned developments at various CrossRail sites, there were good views of the architecture of other buildings:

Late Tuesday: London's Greatest Buildings

Flickr set for London’s Greatest Buildings at RIBA

Two days later I saw a cinema showing of the Richard Eyre’s recent production of Ghosts, at the Barbican. A little early, for once, I had time to stuff my face with a Greek salad, while a self-important woman wanted assistance with her large suitcase. Once she’d been advised that assistance would be rendered, she kept accosting people she thought looked like the kind who would deal with a case –

Is it this man?

repeating the query, until the blessed case was safely hidden away. One of my forlorn, uncompleted tasks last year was to see Ghosts, so I was glad of this opportunity, even though it may have been a completely separate production than the one I’d intended. Lesley Manville was tremendous, and she did look wracked at the curtain call. The Pastor was also very good, a compelling combination of pride and assumed piety. On a self-referential note, I think the recording was made at the Trafalgar Studios, venue of the earliest comedy incident reported here.

Two days later, I thought the exhibition at the Guildhall Gallery marking the anniversary of Tower Bridge was due to end, so that was my first stop of the day (in fact, it’s open until 28th July and opens again in September). I think my favourites here were some of the unrealised designs for the bridge, which were endearingly eccentric in their wayward sense of practicality.

120 Years of Tower Bridge

120 Years of Tower Bridge

120 Years of Tower Bridge

Link to Flickr set for 120 Years of Tower Bridge

One show that was indeed closing that day was about the Architectural Review, at the WORK gallery in Islington. I had to wait ages for a 17 bus to come. So long in fact, that two Japanese tourists were concerned enough to ask me if it would be stopping there. It did arrive, and after a couple of stops a group of “Hens” boarded, all wearing Brownies uniforms, replete with a traffic cone. Their day had already been full of incident, the only explanation for their question:

Is there anyone here called John?


Dear Fabian. We’ve renamed you John, as part of our Hen Party Challenge.

They discussed which parts of That London they wanted to see. One thought they should

look out for Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

while her friend pointed out that they were

kind of connected.

The unwelcome clarion telling us that “the destination of this bus has changed” meant we all had to alight and wait for a replacement bus, going all the way to the promised terminus. I explained this to the Japanese tourists, who had again looked worried. The “Hens” weren’t quite livid, but they were Disturbed. Aboard the new bus, the “Hens” were describing their lives as teachers, and the need for Differentiation, which I remember from a temporary job involving OFSTED reports, two decades ago… When I did get off the bus, the two Japanese thanked me, which made up for the “Hens”‘ inanity.

The exhibition was The Architectural Review: A Cover Story, mainly comprising covers from the 1940s and 1950s, plus some supplementary material. The cover art was often quite polemic, and sometimes at odds with the (arguably) conservative intent of the publication’s contents. There were several references to Brazilian Modernism, which was new at the time of the magazine, and which I had slightly noticed amongst the mass of World Cup cash-in articles in the past couple of months. They did have a gallery innovation, one which I mentioned to the staff, namely that the blurbs alongside the items were on miniature clipboards, so you could detach them and read them easily, instead of having to squint, awkwardly. I’ve added it to my Gallery Circuit, which never seems to decrease. Indeed they have something about Kubrick coming next.

By this time, I’d gone nearly 48 hours without entering a cinema, so I headed to Curzon Victoria, aiming to see the latest by Agnès Jaoui, whose films I always like. Again, I was quite early, so I went upstairs to the sort-of mezzanine area, where I could charge for a bit and eat my apple and banana. They have big tellies connected to Steve Pads, with which members can watch films. Given the time of year, the tellies were showing the World Cup. A father and daughter came up, initially spurning the tellies. Enthusiasm overcame them and they moved closer, putting on headphones. The father started emitting Man Football Noises, even bursting into actual words on occasion –

that was brilliant.

I went downstairs to screen 4 and was on my own for quite a while. Eventually, someone else came in, followed by an annoyingly natter-y couple. The film, Under the Rainbow, was a very funny urban fairy tale, the young female protagonist being someone who would fit very well into a Rohmer film. Jaoui’s character seemed to have a whale of a time with the young kids, building up to a school play.

On the way home, two men opposite me on the Central Line sprayed each other with Man Scent and then sprayed something on their hands, having asked their near neighbour if it was okay so to do.

It’s so smelly in here.

One of them had his Steve Phone dangling around his neck, on a lanyard, which is a more eloquent comment than any I could make.


A Grin Without A Cat

I’ve found few artists more enigmatic and interesting than Chris Marker, and I heard a very positive report about this on Saturday Review a while ago. Nevertheless, I didn’t make it to the Whitechapel Gallery until the final day of their show A Grin Without A Cat. (This meant they’d sold out of the catalogue. Hmmph.)

While I knew he wasn’t “just” a filmmaker, I hadn’t realised quite how diverse his activity was, and it was well represented here. The triumph of this show was that you could pick up a strong sense of him, even if you hadn’t the liberty to stay all day and watch all the films.

Just at the entrance you could watch a half-hour video based on a gallery space Marker created in…Second Life, which pretty much justified the creation of that oddity so beloved of futurologists ten years ago, or sit down with headphones for Statues Also Die, or sit at some computers and navigate an interactive CD-ROM “immemory”. In the latter case, it shows his strength that it transcended the salience of the format’s obsolescence. On the other side, guarded by a waving cat, there was an enclosed space in which the Zapping Zone had been recreated. This consisted of a set of monitors and old computers on varied plinths, with themes flowing between them. One theme was an elephant adopting various different positions, my favourite being:

Elephant paying homage to Max Ernst

It felt like being benevolently trapped inside scenes from Sans Soleil, one of extremely few films I’m happy to see as many times as I can.

It’s usually a good sign when people look happy and there was a man who couldn’t stop grinning at Ouvroir (the film created in Second Life), perhaps at the realisation of Guillaume-en-Egypte, the ginger cat that often became Marker’s avatar/protagonist. This also reflected Marker’s playfulness, while not undermining his serious political work. As he said:

In other times I would have liked to just take pictures of girls and cats, but I wasn’t born in those times

Other artefacts on display included the series of guides to countries around the world that he edited – Petites Planètes – various portraits with accompanying descriptions – Staring Back – and some letters, including a hilarious one in which he simultaneously chides and encourages a film-making collective.

Towards the back of the room, behind another hanging screen showing an excerpt from Sans Soleil, was a tower of five TVs showing a silent movie in 5 channels, the periodicity of the different loops apparently varying. Even with my notorious completism, I didn’t manage to see any of the intertitles come around again.

Elsewhere there was a photo taken during a protest about Algeria from around 1962 at the Place de la Republique, in the background of which is a young tree. He took another photo of the same spot much later and noted the growth of the tree over the forty year period:

Within these few inches, forty years of my life

Nearby there was a photo taken in a cemetery, with a white cat lying on top of a mausoleum:

I’m a cat, I don’t need a statue

was the caption.

You passed some of the imagined film posters in the Great Premakes series on the stairs and could watch both La Jetée and some of the more political films on the first floor.

Flickr set

I was sad to leave, but had planned to see Acid Brass at the Southbank, a free performance as part of Meltdown. They were playing on the terrace outside the Royal Festival Hall. The conductor was surprisingly young and felt himself to be a bit of a showman, whipping up the crowd when needed. Some people near me on the fourth floor terrace seemed to think it was entirely about 808 State:

Bit disappointed they didn’t play that one, Cuba. It has brass in it.

Maybe it was to do with the different viewing circumstances, but I preferred the steel band version of Voodoo Ray, another Deller-related enterprise.

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

How's my Raving?

Given I was in the area, I decided to buy a ticket to Jeff Mills: The Trip and then went to see Human Factor at the Hayward Gallery, as a good use of time. As an exhibition it was a bit fragmented, with no clear theme, but it did have a cumulative effect. Towards the end, I did at one point confuse a real person with a mannequin, briefly. Inevitably with so many pieces the quality was quite variable, though the best (Maurizio Cattelan, for instance) were very good. An elderly man became quite exercised that the title of one of the pieces referred to “Black and Tan”. He started talking about this to one of the guards, explaining the reference to Ireland in the 1920s:

“Look it up on the Internet”

The three renderings of a young woman at the end are startlingly (disturbingly) life-like.

It was five minutes before closing time when I finished, and the guards were contacting each other on their walkie-talkies, flushing people out, some consternation being expressed that there was still someone around, location uncertain.

We can only hope that, having seen Human Factor so soon after opening, I will then have the time to see something as good as the Chris Marker show well before it closes.

Next it was back to the Royal Festival Hall, where there was a DJ in the same place the Brass Band had been earlier. It seemed to be a tribute to the Detroit Holy Trinity, with people of a certain age dancing on the terrace beneath me to Strings of Life and Good Life, plus I Feel Love and Blue Monday. Inside the hall itself, the audience was as positive as the Edwyn Collins crowd had been, but with more urgency, perhaps having been pumped up by the DJ set. A Guy Called Gerald was the support act. Always pleasing to see a Mancunian in action. His set blended from one song to another, with some extended motifs, including a pitch-bended riff that brought to mind his Peel session. There was an excellent stripped down version of Pacific State – perhaps a comment by him on the notorious legal dispute he had with Massey et al? Anyway, he seemed to be having a good time, taking off his jacket later on. People were dancing in their seats and in the aisles, just as they had been on the preceding Tuesday, but much more of them of course. Whenever a four on the floor kick appeared, there were ripples of whoops. I think he was a little humbled by the strength of the reaction of the end, parading about the stage bowing to everyone.

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

After his table was removed, Jeff Mills’ equipment appeared including what looked like a 909 on a plinth.

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

The people at Londonist were pretty scathing about The Trip. I did enjoy it, because I wasn’t as desperate for a beat as many seemed to be. I was disappointed that I couldn’t easily recognise any of the science fiction film clips he was using, the other visual element being abstract coloured pieces, inspired by the “beyond the infinite” section of 2001, perhaps. It was a little haphazard, but always interesting, and I didn’t join in with those shouting

“Go on, Jeff”

towards the end. He did indeed make an excursion to the 909, triggering live patterns.

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

It’s admirable to do something a little less obvious than unimaginative expectations would prefer.

Flickr Set