Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Broadcast in Cardiff

Broadcast’s show in Cardiff on Monday took place in the intimate and welcoming surroundings of the Chapter arts centre, a venue some distance beyond the centre of the city. Perhaps such an out of the way interzone is appropriate for a band who exist between worlds, giving pop form to abstract electronic noise. The sense of a journey beyond was personally enhanced by the out of time trains (slam doors and views through the driver’s cab) taken from the Cardiff Bay station (complete with half-wrecked ghost station canopy) and the ensuing slog through driving rain which poured off the lowering forms of the stone beasts atop the walls of the castle park, looking crouched and ready to pounce in water-blurred vision. The chill of the night was soon eased by the excellent food and local ale (four different brews on offer!) at the arts centre café/bar. The vats and metallic pipework of the Brains brewery loom over Cardiff (local industry yet) and the many old-fashioned street-corner pubs, such as the recently saved Vulcan, tend to bear its logo and offer its beer. And very good beer it is too. But the Chapter eschewed its ubiquitous influence and offered ales from local microbreweries, a small scale and individualistic selection which seemed in keeping with its ethos. The tortellini and gnocchi were very tasty and hugely welcome on such a grim winter’s evening.

The homely, friendly feel of the place extended into the evening. Trish was to be found chatting at a table in the café. A merchandise stall was set up by the entrance, and copies of Microtronics 1 and the tour CD Mother is the Milky Way were on sale alongside vinyl copies of Tender Buttons, Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, the America’s Boy 7” and t-shirts of Ha-Ha Sound vintage; all this proffered with free badge in Noise Made by People bag. The venue itself was a small cinema, with sink back in comfort chairs. The general hubbub was instantly silenced as Trish popped in from a side exit, only for her to urge us to carry on talking as she was only making an adjustment to some plug or other. The fact that she was wearing an anorak suggested that they were gamely waiting to enter from an alley outside. When they did unceremoniously make their entrance, they were wearing the same outfits they were pictured in for the Wire interview; James in his comfortable 70s Blue Peter presenter jumper, Trish in her ritual attire of white dress with flared sleeves. The show commenced with the Julian House film Winter Sun Wavelengths, for which they had first provided an improvised soundtrack at the Belbury Poly Youth Club night a year or so back. The form of this improvisation seems to have become fairly well established, with James setting initial sine wave drones into motion, which morph into keyboard arpeggiations and electronic sighs and screams emerging from thumping ritualistic drum loops. Trish layered vocalisations on top, which she modulated to a greater or lesser degree. The film itself was hypnotic on the big screen, firing off op art circles and flashing stars and flowers at the senses in between the lightning cut ups of winter woods and pools edited together for maximum impact on the subconscious.

This initial instrumental section (with the voice wordlessly used as instrument) segued directly into the second, song-based half. James and Trish remained to either side of the screen, onto which were projected abstract visuals which changed for each song. Most of the material was taken from the Focus Group EP and Tender Buttons. This made sense, as both were made by Broadcast in two-person mode, and therefore lent themselves to this lean live format. The song half was launched by the infectious looping bass line of Corporeal. Black Cat was the sole occasion on which James reached for his guitar, which produced a trebly slash of descending chords which gave the song a very 80s sound. Trish ventured centre stage for one number, the exquisite In Here the World Begins from the Mother is the Milky Way CD, with its gently pulsating drone background overlaid with warm keyboard lines from James’ Korg synth. There were selections from the Witch Cults album which reflected its rough-hewn, kaleidoscopic character. Perhaps the most obvious choice of ‘song’, The Be Colony, was passed over in favour of the Royal Chant, with Trish approximating the Valerie like chorus on the record, and the collage of musical fragments which end the album (The Be Colony/Dashing Home/What on Earth Took You?) with more warm synth runs and manipulated vocal sounds.

The one dip into the pre-Tender Buttons catalogue came in the form of Lunch Hour Pops from the Ha-Ha Sound album. This was re-cast with a lopsided rhythmic backing which sounded like the bubbling and hiccupping from the lab in The Man in the White Suit, or the mechanical clanking of a dubiously cobbled-together Heath Robinson contraption. It was a good re-imagining of the familiar. There were two songs which I didn’t recognise; one a piece of dreamy psych-folk with a Piper at the Gates of Dawn organ sound; the other the number with which they ended the show. For this, Trish took up what looked like some kind of Mongolian lute, with a small triangular body and long, thin neck. Thrashing out rhythmic chords over a pulsating synth, this song carved a motorik Krautrock groove which seemed to have been transplanted to the Eurasian steppes. Trish sang what sounded like an anti-materialistic mantra, ‘what you want is not what you need’, with playful leaps into her upper register. It was a great way to end the show, and an exciting portent of the new LP promised for next year. After such a bewitching evening, I noticed on our way back (now under stars rather than rainclouds) a shop whose cheery purple letters spelled out Lovecraft. An emporium dedicated to the Rhode Island purveyor of cosmic horror? Or a strange concatenation of sex and knitting? I may never know, but its appearance (had it been there at all on the way over?) seemed strangely appropriate.

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