The Beta Band, Newcastle University, Newcastle

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The Independent Culture

The Beta Band don't do irony. It's something they've been at pains to point out since they first emerged in the irony-ridden late-Nineties.

The Beta Band don't do irony. It's something they've been at pains to point out since they first emerged in the irony-ridden late-Nineties.

Any suggestion, then, that their debut "Champion Sound" single sounded like an ironic sub-lo-fi collision between Screamadelica-era Primal Scream, squat dub and Simon & Garfunkle's finest was rejected out of hand. Nothing quite so contrived for The Beta Band - that their sound was reminiscent of an uncomfortably wide range of oppositional influences was neither an act or statement of intent. It was, they said, just how they heard music. In an era when everyone, from Oasis to Missy Elliot, were doing irony, The Beta Band seemed strangely out of place.

The recent release of their third album, Heroes to Zeros, finds them even more out on a limb. At a time when MOR plays king to R&B's queen, The Beta Band's quaint experimental pop songs come over like the eccentric paupers of a lawless village. Indeed, The Beta Band's sound is now so rural (anti-urban?) that you can almost imagine the quartet living in a communal farm, denying themselves any influence from the outside world, preferring to explore the inner universe of their music, and minds - man.

Little surprise, then, that Heroes to Zeros was recorded in deepest Wales. And given the high quota of psychedelia that seeps through every second of the recording, it seems a fair bet that Wales's famed magic mushrooms were plentiful at the time.

What is ironic about the band, and it's an irony that truly comes to the fore live, is just how English they sound, drawing heavily on the Sixties Canterbury bands such as Soft Machine. Melodies have been mainlined from Syd Barret-era Pink Floyd. The occasional piano discord and burbling synths echo early Roxy Music. Shuffling beats come courtesy of The Stone Roses. The list of very English bands just goes on. Ironically, The Beta Band are from Scotland.

Where the band's recorded output often seems happy to sit on one tension -free level, live, the band offer an orgy of jarring sounds, dynamic loops and thundering drums, all playing counterpart to their seemingly disinterested, less-is-more harmonised melodies. On the oddball "Lion Thief", they combine coffee-table psychedelia with a sloping beat that sounds like the bastard child of Robert Wyatt and Ian Brown. "Push it Out", the song that follows, only adds to the Madchester-meets-Canterbury psychosis, thanks to its punch-drunk grooves and lysergically charged melodies.

Backed by home-made Super-8 films, and still sounding so lo-fi that their songs seem to be held together by gaffer tape, The Beta Band continuously teeter on the edge of collapse, only to save the day, time after time, with moments of inspired brilliance. Too left of centre for the times, perhaps, but as an antidote to the over-polished tedium of contemporary pop, their star might actually be on the rise. How ironic is that?

Catch them now, before they return to their village in the hills.

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