Secret Birds started the night with gradually increasing volume. I've already written about this band a few times recently, so I'll keep this brief. The group on this occasion consisted of the seemingly regular guitarist and bassist, two drummers (this time being Susie of I Heart Hiroshima and Ross of The John Steel Singers) and a dude on keys and electronic noises (Tom Hall I believe, though I may be incorrect on that). Friday's set seemed to lean more on the band's recent fixation on classic rock noodling, instead of the more sludgy and 'experimental' sound that they showcased earlier on. Nonetheless, it was still a long way from Wilco, with plenty of repetition and noise which resulted in some slight prodding of the rock'n'roll envelope.
Innig followed, and it was my first time seeing them (indeed I'd never heard of them until they were announced on the lineup). After being warned off them with the remark 'they sound like what people who don't know what experimental music sounds like think experimental music sounds like', I decided to check them out regardless. And I didn't hate them. Far from it, in fact. While I didn't love them either, but they did their ambient soundscapes pretty well and provided an interesting atmosphere. They reminded me of the bits of Set Fire To Flames records where there are no strings, all scrapes and drones and quietly minimalist percussion.
Lawrence English was up next to launch his Kiri No Oto album (Kiri No Oto translates to 'Sound of Fog' in Japanese, a pretty apt moniker). Huddled over his machines to the side of the room, he started so subtly that I didn't even realise he'd started until 30 seconds into his set. Gradually the PA filled with layers of tones and drones and textures. The volume was wonderfully high, but the nature of the sounds English was producing was far more soothing than piercing. The end result was incredibly calming, and one look at people's faces around the room was enough to raise a smile; people staring blankly into space, people leaning back with their eyes closed, people with their heads resting in their hands. All totally still. All in a trance. I can't imagine that anyone would have attempted to have a conversation at that point in time, but it would have been a fruitless exercise if they had, so loud was the music coming from the speakers.
Towards the end of the set another sound entered the pallet that English had created - a cymbal wash. Turning to the main stage, one saw Alex Gillies of No Anchor adding extra texture to English's compositions. As Gillies began to increase the volume of his cymbals and added some tom rolls to the mix, Ian Rogers joined in on bass, strumming out a single chord with increasing vigour. As the band gradually began to overtake the electronic artist in volume, all noise suddenly stopped for a second or two before No Anchor launched into the extreme air-pushing power of 'The Seam', the closing track from their debut album 'Fire, Flood And Acid Mud'. It's about the most intense song you'll hear from ANY band this year, and here it was, blasting out from a couple of speakers and a drum-kit in a DIY venue in Red Hill. The rest of the set continued in kind, whether the band was playing breakneck punk songs ('A Complicated Web Of What-The-Fuck-Ever'), extended stoner-rock jams (the new song which I can't remember the title of) or the show-stopping 13 minute closer, 'Drone Me Out'. It wasn't a perfect performance - there were various times where the band stumbled for a moment or two before correcting themselves, and Rogers' Adam-King-esque mic technique meant that his vocals fluctuated wildly in the mix - but the band gave so much energy that it didn't really matter. They had the kind of intensity that only Turnpike, The Night Crash and To The North (and maybe Stature:Statue) have regularly displayed in recent years, which is no mean feat considering how lethargic their music can get at times. And it all ended with a touch of humour - Rogers looped the final riff of the 'Drone Me Out', while Gillies pushed over an item of his kit with each iteration of the riff. When one solitary cymbal remained, he picked it up and walked through the crowd and out of the room, playing it the whole time. Rogers remained for a few seconds before picking up his amp and attempting to follow... until the still-plugged-in power chord rudely stopped him in his tracks.
Full Disclosure: I recorded No Anchor's album. I did it after offering my services after seeing them play for the first time. I thought they were amazing then, I think they're even more amazing now. I don't think my recording their album affected my opinion of them in that regard, other than the fact that I have a pretty all-encompassing knowledge of the songs on their record.