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NEU! Reekie! At The Edinburgh International Festival : The Pastels, Leith Theatre

  • Published in Live

Neu! Reekie! curate the second of their two nights at Leith Theatre. The themes tonight seem to be the ‘DIY or die’ ethic and also playfulness. In opening, compere Kevin Williamson explains that the showing of an Adam West-era ‘Batman’ TV episode instead of their usual avant garde animations or films was a conscious ‘fuck it’ to the reviewers that always comment on these.

After Batman, the opening artist, Molly Nilsson, quietly walks on stage and sets her backing recording running which she will sing over. Her music is a lo-fi synth-pop which akin to the over-produced ‘80s without over-stepping into pomposity. The sounds have a self-consciously vintage feel so this does not feel like merely apeing a style. She achieves this although the echoing drum machine, the dramatic tempo changes and the simple synthesiser chords often have a power ballad feel. Her clear, dark and moody vocals blend with the music as she sings in an innocent way about social problems in ‘Money Never Dreams’ or ‘Let’s Talk About Privileges’.

The political theme continues next with the spoken word element of the evening, Linton Kwesi Johnson. Kwesi Johnson is the father of dub poetry, which is a lyrical chanting to a reggae rhythm. Unlike his records, tonight he performs without any music. He is a small, well-dressed man with suit and tie and trilby hat, whose burring baritone rolls out his patois words to the rhythm. He delivers his poems in a deliberate, serious manner that fits their political content.

We get a series of poems from the ‘70s and early ‘80s which aim to show that his was the rebel generation as they defied the idea that the minority are powerless. He contradicts the idea that the Caribbean community in the UK wanted to remain separate and celebrates that they have achieved integration. The most powerful of all his pieces, ‘Sonny’s Lettah’ was part of a successful campaign to challenge the courts’ application of an outdated law (the so-called Sus Law). He talks through the social context of each piece as the black community seek to integrate into the UK. The fight for the investigation of racist murders at Newcross in an extract of ‘The Newcross Massacre’. The struggle against policing tactics such as Operation Swamp in ‘Di Great Insoreckshan’.

Without explicitly saying so, he provides a living example of the power of community to successfully challenge institutional behaviour through a self-created protest movement. He receives an attentive hush from the audience throughout the performance, which breaks into a the cheering ovation at the end.

Next on stage are The Vaselines, a Scottish five-piece band fronted by Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee. They are an indie-pop, Glasgow band known for a lo-fi sound and sexually suggestive lyrics. The band had a short initial life at the end of the ‘80s and broke up after one album that was then cited by Kurt Cobain as a strong influence. Their independent credentials were further burnished by the fact that they did not seek to capitalise on this fame upon re-forming in 2008.

They open with ‘High Tide Low Tide’ an upbeat, rock and roll tune which they sing with a lusty enthusiasm and then remind the audience where they do not come from with ‘I Hate the ‘80s’. The simple ringing guitars and unprocessed sound match this rejection of the decade of leg-warmers and yuppies.

Kelly and McKee had a reputation for sharp dialogue between songs as befits an exchange from former lovers. They do not disappoint in this as when McKee asks her monitor to be adjusted, ‘Could I have a bit less of Eugene?’ and he replies, ‘You’ve had all of me’ to which she quips straight back, ‘It wasn’t very much’ and they both laugh.

The highlight of the set was their version of a song that Nirvana famously covered, ‘Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam’. The melacholic vocals of Kelly contrast with McKee’s light but forceful voice to create a strangely nostalgic protest. Other songs exhibit more of the playful side of their banter such as the brief and bright ‘Molly's’ Lips’ and ‘Exit The Vaselines’, which is, of course, not the final song of the set.

Their songs cover love, sex and death with an innocent, melodic vocals but they are clearly a rock band as Kelly’s final act of playing his guitar over the back of his head seeks to emphasise. A delicious sweet and sour.

Last up are The Pastels, who appear as six-piece using wind instruments to good effect in creating their dreamy indie-pop. The relaxed nature of the band is immediately apparent as Stephen Pastel (lead vocals) is ready to begin but then realises that his guitar is not plugged in so we have a few embarrassed seconds of  equipment fumbling. They open with a dreamy instrumental that sets a misty atmosphere. The songs are full of pretty melodies such as ‘Check My Heart’ and allusions using the weather, ‘Summer Rain’.

The Pastels weave a spell with their music. Theirs is an intimate sound of friends  taking an evening walk under the sodium lights of the city’s suburbs. The set builds this mood finally meandering to a more exotic place with a psychedelic rendering of ‘Baby Honey’ in a lively tempo set against a pulsing drone. A dreamy pop experience.


NEU! Reekie! At The Edinburgh International Festival : Michael Rother, Leith Theatre

  • Published in Live

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.

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