Gig review: Andy Bole, Beyond the Summit, Giant Elf Fist & Shrinking Violets @ Muthers Studio, 23/1/16
Warding off the January Blues, Birmingham collective De Basement presented their third happening at Digbeth venue Muthers last Saturday. Showcasing a burgeoning wave of reassessment in progressive mediums, this event featured some genuine talent and fearless exploration.
Commencing proceedings was Andy Bole, graciously taking the stage as a one-man outfit. A prolific collaborator across genre boundaries , Bole has appeared with numerous acts – recording with Gong members and gigging with Bonfire Radicals, Strumpit and The Bushbury Mountain Daredevils amongst others. This was an intimate, personal set with an inclusive feel. Utilising electric guitar, bouzouki, e-bow, screwdriver, slide and looper he crafted soundscapes with the consummate ease of an assured professional. Against the backdrop of a 1960s surf movie, Bole incorporated Eastern scales, Greek, Turkish and Arabic melodic forms and experimental textures to craft a personal sonic soliloquy.
Building along with the waves projected onto him, an initial riff would be layered and accentuated through the piece leading to unexpected culminations. Starting at a uniform point, a motif of his own, there’s a feeling of unfettered iteration which is quite unique. A cursory glance at Andy Bole’s YouTube presence hints at a rich vein of inventiveness and humility that was a pleasure to witness in person.
Up next, local power trio Beyond The Summit stormed through a stripped down set of improv pieces and familiar numbers. Their sound, indebted to the ubiquitous prog luminaries, blends mellifluous glissando guitar textures with a strident rhythm section. A refreshing lack of grandstanding or pentatonic wankery puts a distinctly post-modern slant on this somewhat notorious genre. The rhythms on show are muscular and involved, never sticking around too long or appearing self-satisfied.
Is prog cool again? Was it ever? Closely aligned with the flourishing math and post rock landscapes, the influence of the Founding Fathers of this discipline is keenly felt across the experimental spectrum. Digging out old vinyl or hearing remastered bootlegs of classic Fripp shred may actually be inspiring a similar spirit of reinvention and forward motion to that which formed the original impulse of progressive rock. As punk valiantly railed and against the classist inaccessibility and pomp of cape-wearing feather boa prog, a strict aversion to this form was drilled into many of what became the contemporary record industry’s loudest voices. However, in this era of rhizomatic cultural diffusion the consumer is free to make their own choices divorced from tribal alignment. If Beyond The Summit can build on this early explorative impulse and maintain a novel voice, we can expect some exciting things over the coming year.
Third on the bill were Giant Elf Fist, a Midlands psych fugue duo who blend thundering djembe drums and percussive washes of guitar wah attack to hypnotic effect. With Fricke’s Baraka unfolding through the projector, Giant Elf Fist’s churning tide of rhythm and texture aligned perfectly with a cinematic exploration of universal cultural forms and the human experience shot in gorgeous 70mm. This audio visual melange was a true highlight of the evening and Neil Sheldon, responsible for the projection work is to be applauded. Any cultural appropriation at work in silencing the film’s disparate voices was tempered admirably by the relaxed, contemplative atmosphere and distinct lack of grandeur. No backing tracks, no dry ice, just two guys exploring a genuinely spiritual fusion of tonality and image. I think Giant Elf Fist would really suffer at your average gig, with clinking pint glasses and mindless half-shouted conversations diluting the vibe, but here it all came together.
Headliners Shrinking Violets, self-styled “psycho pop” rockers brought a fresh burst of accessible soulful vibes to round out the evening. Despite having only been around a few months, the Violets have already seen airplay at Aston Villa stadium no less and it’s easy to imagine them entertaining crowds at festivals this summer. With quirky keyboards, a seriously groovy bass sound and a passionate female vocal they have all the ingredients of an act with longevity and a broad appeal. Evoking memories of Pulp, Jefferson Airplane and The Long Blondes, Shrinking Violets channel a healthy dose of blue-eyed soul into a straight beat combo formula with pleasing results. Keep an eye out for these guys headlining the Sunflower Lounge on 4th March with Afterbloom and Amber Riot supporting.
Check out De Basement’s next show at Muthers on 6th February Featuring Leeds piano tech trio Zeitgeist, Mothers Earth Experiment, …and Upstairs, Nurses + Beyond The Summit.