Sunday, 12 June 2016

2016 May Brawl - The Portland - 11/06/2016

Cambridge University has a grand tradition for traditions, and one of them is the Rock Soc's annual live show, being held at the same time as the colleges May Balls (which are mostly run in June, because Cambridge University does that kind of thing a lot). After being absent from them since back when they were held at the Man In The Moon, mostly due to them turning into black/death metal overkill and me then not keeping track of them, I decided to give this years event a go. Besides, how can you go wrong when it's £6 to get in?

The event started quietly, with maybe 20 people milling around in all. Then a guy in leopard-print underpants walked onstage from nowhere, put a gas mask on and started making what can best be described as "one hell of an unholy racket", before then upping the ante by picking up an accordion. Then two other members of the audience walked up, jumped upon guitar and drums, and joined in with trying to redline the soundboard with what I can't really describe as songs or tunes because it was more of a wall of sound experience than anything else. Once it became clear that they were actually a cohesive band, I got around to trying to get their music, and failed in a quite pleasant way. It wasn't that it was especially cleaver or hyper-complex, it was closer to Muse on mcat than mathrock, it's just that it was filled with overdrive, feedback, and lyrics that were audible and poetic but basically a fever dream. I liked the experience, and when they focused on hammering out the tunes it managed to stay just far enough away from hipsterism to not irritate me. If pushed to pigeonhole it, I would say "avant garde alternative stoner", but given how wide-eyed the semi-naked vocalist was, a piss test would be required to prove the last bit.

Malignant Germ Infestation
Next up was a werewolf in a boiler suit on the mic accompanied by a pig scientist on guitar, with a stage setup of a sacrificial satanic alter, bathed in blood, and assorted gender blowup sex dolls with sausages tied to them. The music was very heavy techno-grindcore, with 90's game/tv/porn clips thrown in between rounds, and the show consisted of the singer thrashing on the stage, at the front of the stage, and around the audience, like.... well, like a werewolf in a grindcore band. From time to time they would molest and / or torture the sex-dolls, suspending a number from meathooks on the stage, and given the titles of songs there was a strong over-the-top porno-gore thing going on but someone would have to workout what the lyrics were to give a call on that. It was certainly energetic and the duo were clearly playing their deranged parts with just the right levels of seriousness, including the final section which was a quiet, introspective bit of mime. In the grand scheme of things, it was more an art project than music, so as long as they continue to come up with dafter things to do on the visual side (and they don't kill themselves) they should keep on charnel-housing in the free world.

From one novelty extreme band to what appeared to be another, but whilst Gout came in with Hawaiian shirts on and Human Centipede level-of-humour song titles, it all soon got lost in them being a death metal band. Quite a good one, if that's your thing (which it was for a good chuck of the crowd were), but still essentially a death metal band in Hawaiian shirts. For devotees of the genre its probably a breath of fresh air, and I can see things like the whole band being listed as "backing vocals, backing drums" etc being comedy gold, but whilst they were quite good at what they did they could have been dressed in anything they wanted, including just a bunch of black jeans and t-shirts, for all the difference the schtick made. Not dull, not bad, I'm quite probably not their target audience.

Petrol Bastard
For some this band are the logical end result of 90s industrial / underground electro; observing the disappointment of the promised future that never arrived, slapping it in the face with the realism of parochial, low-rent hedonism, and holding it up on an absurdist, reductivist, pedestal for loving parody and brutal ridicule. For others they're two blokes singing rude, daft, belligerent songs with choruses even the most drunken of audiences can vomit up, that are all done to a jackhammer up-for-it techno backing track that was ganked out of the Prodigies bin. Either interpretations is right, so you can be at the back with a wry, knowing smile or up-the-front dancing-your-tits-off and love it just as much. Easily the act that got the most motion out of the audience (including a can-can line) and certainly the most obsessed with shoving electronics up their arses,

Outright Resistance
Four musicians on stage, thrashing away like the late 80s were back and they wanted to make it into the Big Five. Singer out front, belting out with fury and heart, and scaring everyone backwards because they might as well have had "Face Towards Enemy" stamped on their forehead they were that explosive. It was fast, it was furious, it was jolly good fun, and they are clearly on a mission. They also do requests, finishing on the most chest pounding version of "Safety Dance" I've heard because one of their fans asked them to. The fans that helped them recover from having £5,000 of kit stolen, and the ones that the band are happy to talk to whenever because sometimes you just need someone to talk to and if your listening to this kind of stuff it's likely that your life isn't just roses. I had a chat with the singer at the bar afterwards, and that just confirmed that they are a very genuine act. It's probably not redefining any genres or pushing back that many musical boundaries, but it was good, it was personal without being introvert, they were clearly enjoying being up their to give it their all and, that often makes all the difference.

Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight
It's a stoner band, playing stoner blues/doom rock in a stoner style. Their sing like their from Alabama and they talk like their from Essex. They introduced a song about wanting a women to get naked with them by saying it was about "a women putting their clothes on my floor" when the song is called "Clothes on my floor" and the hook lyric is "I want your clothes on my floor". Badoom-cha! What they did they did well with no surprises or deviation from the script. They mentioned that they had their album available in "delicious vinyl", I don't know if that was a comment on the format or it's taste. I wasn't stoned, so I failed to give a monkeys.

Whilst the line up was possibly a little heavy on novelty acts, rather than straight up rocking, there was enough range with the acts for their to be something for everyone to like (assuming you like the heavier side of rock in the first place). The crowd was pleasant, the beer was good, the venue just the right size, and I'll be adding the May Brawl back into my calendar.