An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, Durrr @ The End, London
Vile Imbeciles, Brixton Windmill, London
An experiment in drop-dead venom
Sunday 11 January 2009
In times when everything seems sewn up, we need someone to tear it apart. In an age of smoothly sellable corporate indie, we need someone to take a knife to the façade. At the start of 2009, the band stepping up to that challenge is An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump.
Quite correctly one of the coolest and most talked-about new bands in London right now, this all-girl trio (their mouthful of a name is taken from an 18th-century painting by Joseph Wright of Derby) rip rock'n'roll back to its building blocks and start again from Ground Zero.
A photogenic jumble of mesh, chintz, leopard and Lycra, with perfect Purdey-from-New-Avengers fringes, Russ Meyer-esque curves and permanently unsmiling lipgloss, C-Bird, D-Bird and X-Bird swap instruments after almost every song, like Bowie and his band during the Lodger sessions – not to show off their versatile musicianship, but, if anything, to prove that you don't need musicianship to create a raw, sexy rock'n'roll racket.
Nevertheless, certain primary roles emerge. Lined up side-by-side, X-Bird is chiefly the stand-up drummer (stand-up drummers are always cooler), pummelling seven shades of hell out of a pair of floor toms; D-Bird is mostly the guitarist, and C-Bird is mainly on bass, as well as owning the band's most powerful singing voice, in a New York tough-girl, Patti Smith-meets-Karen O style.
Their ultra-primitive, ultra-minimal sound recalls Siouxsie and Budgie circa the first Creatures album; the Cramps, of Smell of Female or Off the Bone; We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It; the Birthday Party and early Bow Wow Wow ... and it grabs you by the guts.
As well as their own songs, often barely a minute long (at 2:20, "Saints Don't Cry" is a comparative epic), Air Pump's repertoire includes a cover of Sonic Youth's classic "100%" which dispenses with the original chords in much the same way that the Slits reinvented "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", D-Bird snarling "I've been around the world a million times ... and all you men are slime" with drop-dead venom.
One mouthy git at the back of the club sarcastically applauds AEOABITAP (even their abbreviated form is unwieldy) for using the same drumbeat on successive songs, then snidely requests a C-chord. But he's completely missing the point of these fierce rock'n'roll Fauvists.
Also engaged in the deconstruction/ reconstruction of alternative rock – but an altogether looser proposition – are Vile Imbeciles. Formed by Andy Huxley, the stick-thin pretty boy with the wind-battered raven hair who used to play guitar with the mighty Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster (and has made an effortless transition to dashing frontman), Vile Imbeciles describe themselves as "death jazz", which is as decent a stab as any at pinning down their gleefully free-form freakouts.
At times, they remind me of the Make-Up (the testifying, funk-informed hardcore radicals formed by Nation of Ulysses' Ian Svenonius). There are even moments, for example on "Bad Ideas", when the Brighton quartet sound like someone trying to recreate hip hop by borrowing a garage rock band's instruments, rather than a rock band per se. At which point, it suddenly makes sense that they have Sly Stone as one of their top friends on MySpace.
These shows may only be two small victories in a long war, and there are many months to go, but, so far, 2009 feels like Scouting For Girls and the Hoosiers never happened.
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