ROCK / Full of Eastern promise

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The Independent Culture
AS IF being the birthplace of the Newtown Neurotics wasn't enough to be proud of, Harlow in Essex also boasts a first-rate seedbed for new musical talent. Inside The Square, the town's functional and welcoming youth culture complex, The Voodoo Queens, an all-woman, Anglo- Asian answer to the Cramps, with a better sense of humour and a fine clumpy organ sound, kick up a cheerful storm. Their lyrical concerns - the desirability of Keanu Reeves and the futility of watching your weight - could strike a chord with legions of their peers, and some savage drumming and fiery guitar lines dispel the spectre of cutesiness with a satisfying crunch.

Following such a going concern is a stern but welcome challenge for Cornershop, the night's main attraction, whose willingness to be polemical has so far attracted more attention than their musicality. Cornershop are not the Asian Sex Pistols, nor would they want to be. For all their high-profile otherness, more than half of the on-stage line-up is white, but the vigour with which the band members set about confronting racial stereotypes has made them a welcome disruptive element in a moribund domestic indie scene.

Tonight they do much to dispel suspicions that they might be all socio-cultural mouth and no musical trousers. Having taken to the stage in a well-defined wash of racially-charged Brookside dialogue, Cornershop quickly build up an impressive wall of dissonance. 'The Velvet Underground go ape' is a particularly well- worked mine of rock inspiration, but this band seem to have hit on a fresh new seam. It's not so much the off-the-peg Easternisms that make their sound interesting, as the jagged tunefulness of the whole.

This is Cornershop's first proper tour and they are improving day by day. They are already a considerably tighter unit than the one that recorded their current debut EP. In the Days of Ford Cortina (Wiiija) provides the bulk of a pithy and good-humoured set that has real freshness and excitement about it. Tjinder Singh is a charismatic frontman, and his refutation of past cultural imperialism with reference to It Ain't Half Hot, Mum and Starsky and Hutch - 'Melvyn Hayes is a Seventies honky, try Huggy Bear if you want it funky' - is all the more potent for its gawkiness.

And so to Stourbridge, the unlikeliest of pop Meccas. Long before The Wonderstuff and Ned's Atomic Dustbin made their grubby marks on the T-shirts of the nation, Pop Will Eat Itself had already founded the West Midlands school of cocky self- deprecation. Having emerged as a scuzzily humourful Buzzcocks tribute band, PWEI were one of the first British guitar acts to feel the lure of the beatbox. The unconvincing nature of their early attempts at Anglicised axe-rap drew a lot of flak, but they battled on. Two packed houses at the Town and Country Club and a high-flying single, 'Get the Girl] Kill the Baddies]', show them to be in better shape than ever, despite being currently without a record deal.

Support act Meat Beat Manifesto lose the delicate edges of their sample sculptures in the live rough and tumble, and are left sounding like EMF without the tune, but Pop Will Eat Itself's artful lack of sophistication flourishes. Over the years they have honed their ramshackle sound to a high degree of precision, and thankfully seem to have lost the tendency to lapse into puerile sexism when short of ideas. The acquisition of a real live drummer has beefed up their sound, and their mix of nursery rhyme choruses, thrashy interludes, computer game futurism and a lot of jumping up and down is rapturously received. Their frontman, Clint, even carries off his absurd Marie Antoinette dreadlocks, though he does stand in front of the spotlight beam more often than is advisable for someone wearing a cotton kilt.

Cornershop play Manchester Boardwalk, 061-228 3555, Thurs; Aldershot Buzz, 071-482 0115, Sat.