The Light On The Shore strand of the Edinburgh International Festival continues with the first of two nights curated by the increasingly well-known Neu! Reekie! arts collective. For a number of years, Edinburgh-based Neu! Reekie! have been curating evenings of spoken word, film and music focussing on Scottish and avant garde performers.
Tonight’s show features four performances with short films bridging the change-overs. Each performer is introduced by the Neu! Reekie! duo of Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson with Williamson being excited enough to try out his Leith-tinged German in honour of the appearance his favourite, Michael Rother whose band name Neu provided inspiration for half of the collective’s name.
The short films are an interesting mix with one notable early one providing a nearly wordless and uncertain story featuring a Ninja thief, spider-torturing scientists and an incompetent killer chicken. As a stimulation to the imagination for the evening, it was an excellent primer.
The first act are The Honey Farm, a hip-hop trio formed in East Lothian who criticise the misogynistic and violent strains of some rap by parodying them. ‘L.A.D.S.’ makes clear the mockery, as the act portray young men out on the town boasting about their genitalia and quipping “I’m cheeky like a Nando’s”. The danger in their act is that in parody, they can appear to be just in love with sexism and violence as those they seek to mock. The fine line that they have to tread is how far they spell that out to the audience and here they straddled it enough to be uncomfortable watching for this old male. The group show some early nerves but with pace, rhythm and wit demonstrate that there will probably be much more to come.
The next act are The Fire Engines and this is their last ever gig. The post-punk outfit formed in 1980 and lasted a year. They burned brightly and briefly but have had a significant influence on the scene in Scotland. They reformed in 2004 playing only a handful of gigs including a 21st anniversary celebration of the film of Trainspotting at this same venue.
Lead singer, Davy Henderson, wanders on in a silver foil anorak like a marathon runner just finished his race, until you realise that he has just got a t-shirt and his pink boxer shorts underneath. He opens with a cheery, sarcastic “Hello teenage of Leith” and spends the rest of the performance demonstrating that he is definitely not out of puff!
The Fire Engines play up to their name which comes from the psychedelic rock group, The 13th Floor Elevators. The rhythm section provides a steady, simple beat on top of which Henderson jams distortedly and discordantly. An excellent example is ‘Get Up And Use Me’ with its insistent, repetitious guitar chords and wild distortions. It is a perfect example of skronk.
After four songs of bouncing discord which see Henderson often on his knees wrestling with his guitar, he finishes the first half of their set with a childishly huge grin and grasping his whammy bar, he wiggles it recommending “Everyone should get one.”
The Fire Engines get a rest and on prowls Lydia Lunch, a poet who made her first impression in the anti-commercial, No Wave movement in ‘70s New York. She walks slowly and silently along the front edge of the stage obviously staring into the audience’s eyes before placing her notes on a lectern beside two microphones. She performs in a confrontational and committed style. Her voice can be strident or soft and the second microphone, which has an echo effect, is used to create a distant perspective from the punchy sentiments that she expresses.
Her message is a hard but positive one to embrace life’s challenges and conflicting appetites and all. She throws herself fully into the paced delivery of each story and her final one on the inevitable approach of death chimes perfectly with her opening cry to get on and live an involved life. The performance is deliberately discomfiting and several times, she challenges those talking at the back of the theatre with the apt “What are you hiding from?”
The stage is reset and the Fire Engines appear for their last set. Russell Burn, the drummer, appears in a loud party shirt, Davy Henderson has removed his silver foil as if cooked through and now sports a dark blue, woolly, ear-flap hat to set off against his boxer shorts. The band are joined by Malcolm Ross (guitar) originally from the Fire Engines contemporaries, TV Art and Josef K (and others). They play four more songs of which ‘Dischord’ is the most magnificent piece of honest, descriptive titling which ends after a blur of notes and distortion to a beat perfect finish. The crowd roar their approval and the band are called out for a final bow.
Tonight’s eclectic line-up is completed with the appearance of Michael Rother, a pioneering figure in music having set up Neu and Harmonia and played in Kraftwerk. He plays a selection of all his previous works with his band, particularly by Hans Lampe on drums.
The hypnotic lock-rhythms with Rother’s heavily processed guitar produce an ambience for dancing, after a little coaxing. Having initially stated that he would not speak much in the gig and that the audience should let the music move them, Rother asks “Do Scottish people dance?” and then, he gives them permission. After that, an audience that seemed almost stupefied in awe of this legend seem to shake themselves and the floor starts to sway and groove. The final numbers see the whole audience bobbing and bouncing in individual musical dreams. Rother plays with speed up and slow down of tunes as he originally did in the ‘70s, though this can be fine-tuned now with the array of processors on his desk. The end is greeted with great cheers and cries of more and Rother seems surprised and delighted to return for two encores.
The Neu! Reekie! comperes come out clearly brimming with justified pride. The acts may not all be new but then Neu! instead seems to mean the edge of art. The artists tonight, new and old, played their role superbly in challenging and provoking.
Further images from the gig can be viewed here.