Photo: Carsten Windhorst
For someone who has only seen the O2 in it’s original form, next to a sad picture of Tony Blair, the structure is pretty impressive rising up as we ascend the escalators of North Grenwich tube station. Logos scream out from every angle and every restaurant under the sun is belching under the strain of Friday night traffic. Having gone outside to go back in, we are met with the scramble of opening night upheaval. People are being turned away from the VIP despite having wristbands, oh no, but worse is to come, Ian Brown is too ill to attend. It would take several ultra-expensive Stella’s to get over this.
Unfinished concrete is bathed in blue and pink neon lights and the main room is very like Fabric’s (matter’s proprietor) own though much smaller. Rectangular, it boasts arena-like tiered seating around two corners of the much-revered kinetic dancefloor. The stage is a good height and with no barrier the show is immediately intimate despite the gaping ceiling. Looking up the view is that of a futuristic housing estate. A two-story balcony is twinned with a caged-walkway hanging from the roof; the club is a lot bigger than first impressions indicate. The bars are long enough and there’s plenty of staff in freshly-ironed matter t-shirts eager to take your hard-earned cash, but it is the soundsystem that deserves the plaudits.
Tonight’s ‘Live Launch’ boasts two bands with emerging reputations akin to this sort of environment and one mainstay who rarely, if ever, disappoints. Pukka, as my new work colleague would say. Iglu & Hartley engage in a bit of Frisbee passy-shoot before taking to the stage at half 8. Dressed as if being coaxed out of obesity to do a fun run, their set is as riotous as it is daft. The duelling vocals of Jarvis Anderson and Sam Martin filter across euro-pop synths with all the kind of do-it-yourself simplicity of Canada’s Holy Fuck. There are tinges of the punk rock their South Bay home in LA is famous for but for the most part, it’s just a bit irritating. Not even a spell rapping on the floor can excite the crowd and its left to the intermittent DJ Hew Stephens to restore the initial opening night buzz. The colossal looking speakers married with the kinetic dancefloor ensure the beat is felt throughout instead of its usual chest-housed clubbing resonance. Nice.
Late of The Pier come with a lofty reputation underlined by the fact Erol Alkan has declared their is the last album he will ever produce. What follows has been described by some as genre-defining but for Gigwise it is more like a schizophrenic at a record fair. Punchy-Bloc Party-like vocals mingle with glitchy electronica as heavy rock precedes bleep-heavy electro. Even the most rebellious of sets needs some sort of structure and by the end we’re gasping for a cigarette if only to collect our thoughts. Head-fuck works best when it is teased in and then out again and without formation it can quickly sound like the cleaning lady has done a bit too much hoovering. Rousing on record and fearsome on the festival circuit, tonight wasn’t their night.
From the outset UNKLE look pumped. James Lavelle takes to the stage in Bono-like wrap-around black shades and after a heavily distorted ‘Chemistry’ he comes to the front to share vocals on the brilliant ‘Hold My Hand.’ Gracious from start to finish, he apologies for Brown’s absence before delivering a masterful version of ‘Reign,’ albeit with recorded vocals. The set is dominated by third LP ‘War Stories’ but it is their version of ‘In A State’ that draws the gasps of appreciation from a now well up for it crowd. Slower than the infamous Sasha DFA remix and with Lisa Lee Jones on vocals it is nothing short of spellbinding. It’s beauty expertly contrasts the guitar-heavy ten tracks that had befallen it. Gavin Clark and Ian Astbury tag-teamed vocals all night long, with Clark edging it on the performance stakes with an entrancing ‘Keys To The Kingdom.’
Pablo Clements looks every bit Lavelle’s current partner in crime, twisting, turning and scratching from the back, his bouncing perm and upturned collar providing a magnetic silhouette on the screen behind. ‘Restless’ is fantastic with its stabbing bassline and slurring vocal atop funky guitars and there is a real feel the set has reached its peak by this point. ‘Eye For An Eye’ finishes the night with the kind of electronic gusto that was, in truth, too heavily adorned by screaming guitars tonight. The desert-rock direction is excelling in the Unkle-mindset but this is what they do best. As regards the venue, it is too early to say but with the imminent demise of The End, matter could well be sitting pretty on top of the tree by Christmas.