This is one of the most difficult things for me to write that I’ve written in a long time. I’m not sure if it’s better to leave the whole thing to settle before I write, or maybe not write anything at all. I went to the gig with Scatterheart only about 8-9 hours ago, and it kinda left us both speechless. Well. Not speechless, we talked a lot, but it felt useless.
So, is indescribable a terrible way to start a gig review?
Let’s get the basics out of the way. Micachu is girl with messy hair who looks like an eight year old boy and plays a kids guitar. The Shapes are two people, a boy and a girl, one with a very spare drum kit (more cowbells and less toms) and one with a couple of keyboards, a laptop, a few bottles and a few cowbells.
Apparently, the set up is a result of a conscious decision to simplify things back to proper instruments, after spending so long playing around with hoovers and bowed CDs and other homemade shenanigans.
(A quick break to mention that I can hear a cat in pain, or possibly just trying to get back in, out in one of the streets back gardens. Not sure what I can do about it but it’s really upsetting not to.)
Anyway, these three made more noise than I’ve heard in a long time, and it was entirely unique and different, and remember that I go out of my way to find weird music.
The irony of course being that the bare bones of everything they do is pure pop. Bouncy, catchy choruses, simple basic structures, memorable but sometimes meaningless lyrics, catch hooks and riffs.
But each of these elements is unlike anything you’ve heard before. The sheer invention with which Mica Levi (the titular Chu) hits her guitar is incredible. Her use of voice is nothing short of miraculous. She screamed a howl of pure emotion at one point. The impact almost tore me apart.
Then she did it again at the next chorus.
I felt broken afterwards. After saying thanks to the band I got anxious and hot and had to be outside, where I needed to get away from people and stand in the cold agog at the sensation of air on my body.
I can’t explain the music, but I could talk forever about it’s effet on me.
I got the torrents of pure physical emotion that I only get at the very best gigs. The music roaring out of my heart, expanding to fill my chest and then bursting out in the form of biting and pushing and general physical…I don’t want to say aggression, but outwardness isn’t a word.
There was an element of it that was so raw and passionate and sexually charged. Only it wasn’t just an element, it was the whole. And it wasn’t just sexually charged and passionate, it was passion, and it was sex.
Okay, that may sound a bit over the top, but essentially the rhythm and noise had that kind of dirty quality to it. And not even in the way that all music is sexy, because it uniquely captured the weirdness of sex. Or at least the potential for weirdness.
Afterwards I felt almost dead, but like everything was new. I also came home to have the best wank in the universe. My body was made sensitive and renewed, by the sound.
When I played the album to a certain Monsier Ketaminsky, he told me it was a bit much, and he imagined it was what it sounded like in my head when I was going crazy (he knows my history of not being all there all the time). I would disagree, though I’d almost take it as a compliment.
Live though, it was almost like a mental breakdown. Like something being torn down inside of you. Bits of my brain that haven’t been excited for a while got woken up. The noise was incessant, Levi choosing not stop strumming between most songs so she could retune her guitar, which she did instinctively and instantly. The constant thrum of activity, like being in the heart of the city, only it’s music, like the noises are speaking to you.
Which is what my madness felt like at times.
But the best side of madness. In fact, there was rhyme and reason to everything. The noises were carefully planned, intricate and confusingly dissonant, but all perfectly pitched. Also, the band were tighter than anything, the dummer and keyboardist working together on percussion, bouncing individual parts between themselves and sharing instruments with deft co-ordination. When Raisa Khan picked up a guitar and her and Levi faced off to play together it was incredible. Levi redefined the ‘rhythm’ guitar element to just one looped automatic arpeggio, while Khan tore her guitar to shreds.
The guitars were tiny. The band were intimate with each other. There was a naive joy in everything they said. Mica Levi was genuinely self effacing, and obviously really happy that anyone had shown up. The venue was rammed, everyone adored them. Even some of the pretentious indie kids danced.
Because I overanalyse, it’s worth noting that all the songs from the album were entirely different in person. The drums were new and fresh, melodies and rhythms changed as needed. The drums would grab beats from Hip-hop and techno, strip it away to the basics, and then layer as much noisy, sometimes melodic, percussive elements into it as possible.
But I’m still reaching for the impossible when I try to explain it.
It left me feeling raw and nude and unable to deal with the world. Me and my gig partner had a bourbon afterwards and realised we couldn’t manage to do any more. I came home and, as routine dictates turned my computer on. As soon as I saw it, I realised that I couldn’t engage with a screen.
So the lights went out and I was left with my body (don’t worry kids, I’m not gonna go into any more detail about that part of the evening).
I slept better last night than I have all week, and though I’ve woken up early, something about me feels differently refreshed.
If they are playing near you (and if you’re in Europe they should be fairly soon, for given values of the word near) you need to see them. They will scrub your brain and your soul and your heart. They will scour you and turn you into something newer and better.
They will make you dance. They will make you hear new possibilities.
And you can’t really get any better than that now can you.