|Karl Blake, Dieter Müh,
Reverend Steven Johnson Leyba, Penny Rimbaud and Cotton
291 Gallery, London
Late last year the 291 Gallery hosted an evening of spoken word, performance and music from a diverse range of musicians and artists. The gallery housed in a deconsecrated church in the East End of London is an imposing structure kitted out with the latest technological equipment, and a huge video screen in the main gallery.
The hirsute figure of Karl Blake opened the evening providing a rare spoken word piece. An alluring ambient score provided by David Knight (of Arkkon and Karl's partner in the Shock Headed Peters) backs the performance. On the screen blood-red visuals display bikers, and a series of gun shooting incidents. A table-lamp half illuminates his bearded face as he reads from foolscap paper. His performance was loosely based around King Lear.
I consider Karl Blake one of this countries treasures. His skills cover a vast range from writing to sculpture to music. Karl has a distinguished but sorely under documented musical career behind him: member of the highly influential Lemon Kittens (with Danielle Dax) and his own superlative rock beast the Shock Headed Peters. Of course, he's also recorded with Current Ninety Three, Sol Invictus, In The Nursery, and the Amal Gamal Ensemble. Karl Blake possesses a captivating spoken voice that belies his considerable presence. I'd like to see more of Karl Blake's work, and an exhibition in his own right would be so deserving.
"I've been bought and boring" Blake lied as he left the stage to much applause.
Dieter Müh, a duo comprising Steve Cammack and Dave Uden followed. Early on in their 'career' they forged links with Finland's Sahko label, while a previous album was produced by Colin Potter (acclaimed studio engineer for Current Ninety Three and Nurse With Wound). Cari Saluti their most recent album was recently reissued on Tesco's Functional Organisation label. Dave appeared crouched over the bank of electronic equipment while Steve plundered a violin for effect more than melody, I guess. On previous occasions Dieter Müh have utilised volume to great effect but tonight's performance is much more restrained in comparison. Gaya Donadio (of the Hinoeuma Club) aided the electronic drone with her electronically treated vocals. In some respects with Gaya's accented voice it seemed that Dieter Müh were making some sort of nod to the more European Tesco sound. Whatever, tonight's performance is further proof that Dieter Müh are the true sound of the UK electronic underground.
The Reverend Steven Johnson Leyba followed with an extreme performance piece. Leyba is a Native American Indian activist, a member of the Church of Satan, and an outspoken critic of Amerikan culture and society. Aided by a rather nubile female Leyba, with a jester hat (he's heavily inspired by the trickster spirit) and stripped to the waist engaged in a graphic blood ritual that managed to combine spoken word, performance art and politics.
As Leyba ranted against America's patriotic spirit, his female compatriot carved symbols into his skin with a scalpel. I was too far back to tell what they were but previous shows have seen him having pentagrams scarred into his skin. In a dark fetish club then this might make sense but in the vast expanse of a church hall Leyba's performance appeared confused. "I'm a terrorist," he hollered. Leyba's produced numerous books including Coyote Satan Amerikkka and been the subject of Unspeakable: The Life and Art of Reverend Steven Johnson Leyba, a documentary by Joe Catoe.
Penny Rimbaud followed echoing the anti-American sentiments proffered by Leyba. Rimbaud, as most will know, was a core member of the hippie and punk movements in the UK. I recently read Rimbaud's thoroughly entertaining and inspiring Shibboleth biography and having been too young to witness CRASS live was looking forward to this. But oh, how the mighty… Dressed in white with his straggly blonde hair Rimbaud gesticulated and enunciated perfectly well, bounding all round the stage and to the middle of the hall but his rantings went on way, way, way too long. It didn't help that he was backed at times by saxophone and flute. I'm still reeling. Quite frankly, if this was representative of the CRASS collective show at the Royal Festival Hall the previous month I pity the poor attendees. There's no doubt Penny Rimbaud's roots are basically hippie but wasn't punk meant to have overthrown this. . .
The Scandinavian duo of Carl Abrahamsson and Thomas Tibert completed the evening. Abrahamsson and Tibert who previously recorded as Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth affiliated White Stains were making their UK debut as Cotton Ferox, their new musical project. They opened the evening with the Cotton Ferox anti-manifesto, where Carl Abrahamsson delivers the meaning behind their new musical outfit.
I'm not overly keen on laptop musicians but Cotton Ferox are successful in their delivery combining spoken vocals with digitised beats, with on-screen video display. Tonight's audience are treated to a selection of tracks culled from their debut CD, First Time Hurts. Cotton Ferox produce a twilight sound of techno and hip-hop rhythms, late night jazz, heavy dub and Carl Abrahamsson's insightful spoken word. They combine intelligence and sleaze in just the right proportion. The clash of seedy girls and sleazy sounds of 'Perver City' is a highpoint in their set. 'I Can Still Hear the Music' expertly combines dub rhythms with massed choirs, and sounds just right within the baroque structure of the 291 Gallery. Out of the speakers comes the wistful strains of Genesis P. Orridge on 'Snake Hiss'. Even though tonight's show coincided with a Throbbing Gristle exhibition in Shoreditch, London, the planned appearance of Genesis P. Orridge as special guest didn't materialise.
Towards the end of their set Cotton Ferox are joined by a hooded figure with an astonishing soul voice. It transpires to be Krister Linder of Solaroid, fellow label mates on Confuscious. It's an astonishing collaboration that's akin to David McCalmont fronting a post-industrial outfit. Linder's voice soars throughout the church leaving the feeling that Cotton Ferox could find another career in some noir trip-hop sound.
All told it was a varied and diverse line-up combining dark electronica, with anarchists and political activists, Church of Satan members and cult musicians. A good night out, if truth be told.
Cotton Ferox - www.cottonferox.info
Dieter Muh - to be announced
Karl Blake - www.grayowl.com/karlblake
Penny Rimbaud - www.southern.com/southern/band/penny
Reverend Steven Johnson Leyba - www.satanicapache.com