Archive for September, 2012

New Noise (Road): Refused @ Kentish Town Forum, London – 12 August 2012

Posted in Gigs, Travel with tags , , , on September 16, 2012 by Noise Road

Why is it so hot in here?  Seriously, it is London, not Alice Springs.  And why won’t the band come on already?  I’ve had enough of sweaty, posh kids bumping into me without some tunes to distract.

Maybe my radar was too highly tuned after spending the previous 24 hours in the posh capital of the world, Oxford.  It is a fair contrast to basement shows in working-class Glasgow.

The crowd is young.  I think most of the crowd have become fans after Refused’s break up.  The only Refused song that I knew in 1998 was New Noise… and I only knew New Noise as the video with the nerdy-looking hardcore kids played on Rage in the wee hours.

The recent spate of nineties bands reforming is an interesting subject.  Take Faith No More.  I saw FNM on their ’95 and ’97 tours of Australia.  In ’95, they played to a half-full (read half-empty) venue.  On their reformation, a couple of years ago, they headlined festivals throughout the world.

I haven’t seen the second coming of FNM – not because I think that they are sell outs, or because I think it won’t be an awesome performance the equal of ’95 and ’97.  I’m glad that people see what I see in FNM.  Patton is one of my favourite musicians.  I just haven’t been able to line up a FNM show…  but I also I have really fond memories of 97 and 95 in particular.  I don’t think those memories can be topped.

So maybe FNM 2012 isn’t for me.  Maybe it is for the people who never got to see them on the first run.  Maybe Refused 2012 is for me…  and the whole world.  If only 30 people in Stoke-on-Trent saw them on the first run, that means pretty much everyone in this room hasn’t seen them.

Unusually, the sun was out.  The train from Oxford to London was stuffy, hot and packed with Olympic refugees.  It is the Olympics, man!  London is full.  London is buzzing.  The world is watching.

Tonight the world is pointed towards the east of London for the Olympic Closing Ceremony – for The Who, fair enough… but for Take That?  For the Spice Girls?

80,000 other people in London are headed towards Hyde Park for Blur, New Order, the Specials…  But Noise Road is headed to the Kentish Town Forum…  for Refused!  Woooo!!!!

London has many old theatres reinvented as excellent mid-size venues – Brixton Academy, Hammersmith Apollo, Scala, KOKO…  and the Kentish Town Forum.  Outside, it was a mild evening.  Inside, it was steaming from the packed kids.  The all-girl opening act suitably rocked the stage and flew the flag for Pussy Riot.  Seriously, you can never say this too much – Fuck Putin.

London gigs are slick.  Kids need to be in and out in order to hop the last tube home….  However tonight there seemed to be an eternity before Refused boarded the stage.  A series of flashed lights appeared to indicate that the start was nigh – but alas, no.  Then the back-lit Refused curtain covered the stage.  Still we waited.

With the curtain still over the stage, the hum gave way to the opening riff of Worms of the Senses / Faculties of the Skull.  Finally the curtain dropped.  The whole floor surged.  It was impossible to hold your ground, never mind trying to grab a sh!tty photo.

The crowd participation starts early with the chant “Let’s take the first bus out of here!  Let’s take the first bus out of here!”

Refused Party Program continues the pace.  The pit grows.  Fists pump the air along with the chorus.

The lighter start of Liberation Frequency reignites the floor sing-along “We want the airwaves back!”.  Steam rises off the crowd.  The bass and drums kick in and chaos on the floor resumes.

Refused bring the energy of hardcore punk but its aggression is stripped of any machismo.  There is passion and anger but the band is free of posturing and violence.  Instead frontman, Lyxzen, has an air of old-school rock showman in him.  He swings the mic as well as The Who’s Roger Daltrey ever did.  He smiles.  Even though the lyrics may border on the painfully sincere, Refused are still enjoying themselves on stage.  The groove in the music means that the crowd are also having fun.  As Ben Folds stated about a far sh!ttier band, “Shake your booty while the band complains”.

What seperates the Refused live show from other hardcore acts is quality of songwriting.  The Shape of Punk to Come may be a grandiose name to give an album.  However, Refused did outgrow hardcore punk.  Whilst retaining the passion of hardcore, they incorporated metal riffs, pop melodies and even the odd electronic glitch into well crafted songs.  The title track off the Shape of Punk to Come shows a bouncy groove that is prevalent in the album and throughout the evening.  

Summer Holiday vs Punk Routine had the crowd wilfully hand-clapping to a pop-punk tune written and performed with sincerity.  A few minutes ago the crowd were running into each other for the more straight-ahead hardcore of Rather Be Dead.

The guitars and drums lock into the staccato, off-kilter riff of the Deadly Rhythm.  Lyxzen throws in a timely “woo!” and the track noodles away into a walking bass line.  While the band contrast metallic and catchy melodic riffs, the vocalist crosses the floor and sings Refused are Fucking Dead from the stairwell of the balcony.

Song craft, lyrical theme and execution are never better than the high point of Refused’s career and the climax of the night, New Noise.

After a short break, New Noise shows how Refused’s triumphant return differs from the hard graft of their life before death. Jets of smoke explode into the audience.  2,500 punters relieve Lyxzen of his vocal duties, starting with “Can I scream!”.  New Noise contains the best timed “Wooo!” in the history of rock…. and tonight we get to join in.  The crowd reaches a peak of fervour as we close with “The New Beat!  The New Beat!”

Not only is the pre-chorus riff of Rather be Dead catchy as feck, but the lyrics of the track are fitting for the story of Refused.  Refused imploded in America in 1998 amongst the constant misery of failed tours.  Now, as the closing, loud-as-feck refrain states “But I rather be alive”… and here they are in 2012, very much alive.  Success came hard.  Success came late… but success has come.

New Noise (Road): Stockholm Syndrome

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , on September 10, 2012 by Noise Road

Britain is buzzing.  Due to Glasgow’s cultural (and physical) distance from the London Olympics, I did not feel it until I headed south of the Scottish border.

When I arrived into the UK nearly 3 years ago, Britain was down.  Jobs were hard to come by.  Like my new colleagues, I clung desperately to my sh!tty job.  The locals could not envision a brighter future…  but the Olympics has been a massive boost to the optimism of the nation.

As a side effect of the games, Heathrow Airport actually works!  A couple of weeks previous, I arrived back from a short trip to Australia.  Instead of the usual hour in the passport control line, I was actually processed in under 5 minutes.  I was processed too quickly.  The tube wasn’t even running yet.

Despite Heathrow functioning tonight, I still missed my connecting flight to Stockholm due to a heavily delayed flight out of Glasgow.  When I should have been aboard a mechanical bird aimed at the Stockholm sky, instead I nursed a guinness in an airport bar.  Locals sang God Save the Queen as a British cyclist once again defeated an Australian rival at the games.

After Noise Road eventually landed into Arlanda at 11:30pm, we took in a quick march of the city.  I was a little out of a place, still wearing the same shirt and jeans that I threw on 15 hours early.  Since then they had seen the office, the workshop, 3 airports and 2 planes.  In contrast the stylish Swedes were dressed up for a Friday night out, while I ruined their neighbourhood.  Lucky for the locals,  I was soon passed out  on a central Stockholm couch.

Noise Road had been invited to Stockholm by local and new Noise Road friend, Sara.  Sara acted as my excellent tour guide and gave me a couch to crash on for 3 nights.  Hopefully I didn’t snore out and stink out her beautifully presented Stockholm flat too much.

After an early breakfast, we busted down through the paved old town to a peak overlooking the city.  The sun shone over the clean blue waters that link the Stockholm islands on the edge of the Baltic.  Whether it be walking along its edge, or on the bridges, or even aboard a boat, the water is the way to see Stockholm.

On a touristy boat tour, we passed a controversial district.  Here very modern apartment buildings rose as part of the city’s Olympic bid.  The complaint is that they do not fit in with the older, traditional buildings of Stockholm.  I would live in those apartments.  They are modern, clean, spartan.  It sounds like my bag.

I have two dream accommodations.  One is an entirely stainless steel apartment.  When I lock the door behind me in the morning, any water vulnerable equipment retracts into the walls, while shower heads throughout the apartment automatically hose the place down.  The other dream is permanent residence in a hotel like in an old Jimmy Stewart movie.  An old door man will say “Hello Mr Road” every morning as I pass in the lobby…

Apparently Swedish people meticulously furnish their apartment.  The apartment is a reflection of their personality.  I have nothing in my apartment in Glasgow.  My personality must be a void.

The centre of the modern town is an older controversy.  Traditional housing was torn down in the fifties to make way for a blocky “modern” city with easier access for cars.  Development is always a controversy here… Even an ugly part of town’s proposed rejuvenation is a contested issue.  These are the intricacies below the touristy surface that you learn when you walk a new town with locals.  As we passed down one street, Sara and Johan pointed out where one politician had been shot and another stabbed.

We wandered back through the more tourist friendly basements and narrow paved streets of the old town.  There is a reason why old towns in Europe bring the tourists.  We just don’t have anything like these historical centres in Australia.  These building predate the nation of Australia by hundreds of years.  It is difficult to not be impressed by the history of these places.

A newer addition to the centuries old town was this afternoon’s annual gay pride parade.  I can’t say that I am an experienced gay pride spectator but I’m pretty sure the Stockholm version is more conservative than most.  There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of leather, spikes or d!ldos.   The pride parade was kind of sprung on me, so I hadn’t really mentally prepared myself for a d!ldo fest.

I found the general acceptance of the pride parade reassuring.  I did not have enough time to bother the locals with political questions – but even though there is a significant Christian party, the Swedes seem quite accepting and tolerant.

After the pride parade, I spent my first decent bout of sun this summer strolling along the beautiful waterfront.  The esplanade brought thoughts of Venice.

Both being shipbuilders by trade, Sara took Noise Road to the VASA museum.  A ship that was too tall to ever live sank shortly after its maiden launch three hundred years ago.  In the latter half of the 20th century it was retrieved from the seabed and restored magnificently. Archive footage of the recovery shows a salty old sea dog within arm resting on his knee while he puffs away at his pipe.  Now that is a real captain.

Continuing the tourist mode, we needed to see some lynx and wolverines and bears…  Oh my!  The wolverines were hiding at Skansen open air zoo, but we did catch lynx, bears (five of them dude), moose, reindeer and otters.

A traditional meal of meatballs in a beer hall closed the day.  Very tasty.  Meatballs are a far better traditional fayre than the Swedish Christmas dinner I dealt with last year in Motala.  Undefined fish stood in various states of pickling and mayonaising and other unattractive processes, all housed in jars.  Jarfish.  The jarfish caused one of our team explosive diaoreha for the remainder of our work meetings on the frozen compound.

The morning of my exit we braved the woods of Sweden.  From the woods of Vancouver to the woods of Sweden, its been a busy few months of travelling out of the Glaswegian base to Vancouver, Australia, Belfast, Oxford, London, Venice, Stuttgart.  A quiet coffee in a small town overlooking the bay and we were soon aboard a plane out of Sweden.

But Sweden Week lives on…  It lives on in the form of the Refused gig in London!  Next weekend!

New Noise (Road): Eloi of Stockholm, Morlocks of Glasgow.

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , on September 7, 2012 by Noise Road

Earlier in the evening, Refused vocalist, Denis Lyxzen, spoke of Refused previous tour of the UK.  In 1998, the band played to 30 disinterested punters in Stoke-on-Trent.  The ’98 tour highlight, a crowd of 200 in London, ended 4 songs in when a band member required hospitalisation.

“Wooooo!!!” 2,500 punters scream along with Lyxzen tonight at the start of New Noise.  Steam rises from the writhing floor of the sold out Kentish Town Forum.  A second gig had to be added tomorrow night to cope with the demand.  14 years can make a difference.

A week earlier I landed in Refused’s native country of Sweden.

Why would an Australian set foot in Sweden?  Would it not be safer to hold up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London?  Don’t all the Swedes want to extradite us all to Guantanomo Bay?

Travelling from Glasgow to Stockholm is kinda like the classic 1960 movie adaption of HG Wells, the Time Machine.

Like the the Time Machine’s Eloi, the Swedish are beautiful, blonde and happy.  They live a comparatively work free life.  Having worked exclusively with Swedish companies for the last 18 months, I know that they take 5-weeks paid vacation during July/August, and more paid vacation at Xmas.  By law, no one is allowed to work excessively past their 40-hour week.

This weekend, the carefree, stylish locals play in the sun of the Stockholm islands, surrounded by clean blue water.  Why would they be interested in a stranger?  Why would they bother with a Morlock?

Glasgow is recently a former industrial town.  In the Time Machine, the Morlocks live their whole lives exclusively underground, tending to their machines.  In Glasgow clouds permanently block the sun.  We might as well be working subterranean, locked for long hours in the factory.

Approaching my fourth successive winter in Britain, I know that environment affects people.  I love Glasgow and I love the Scottish people.  Their wit is bettered nowhere that I have been…  but…  the Scottish are a miserable people.  The weather is miserable and so is their default mood… but they are friendly (at least the ones who aren’t bat shit crazy).  They are inclusive.  They want to have a drink with you and ask you “why the feck would you leave Australia for this?”.  The Eloi of Scandinavia do not ask.

Are these sweeping generalisations based on one long weekend in Stockholm?…  Not quite.  I have spent 3 weeks working in naval and industrial towns in Sweden in the last 12 months.  Previously, I spent 2 weeks travelling through Bergen, Tromso and Oslo in Norway and then a week passing through Helsinki and Jyvaskyla in Finland.

Scandinavia is the hardest place to meet locals that I have visited.  A few months into my travels through Europe, my Dillinger hoodie already smelt funky.  My jeans were hanging by the threads.  With bald spots on my converses letting through the cold of the snow, I shuffled into a rock bar in Begen, Norway…  I’m not pretty enough to be here.  I’m not fashionably enough dressed (even in a rock bar, dude?).  I can’t afford more than 2 beers at the extortionist Scandinavian prices.  I say “hello” to my neighbours at the bar and to the bar staff.  They politely smile and turn their back to speak with their fellow Norwegians.

Compare that to my time in Chicago, a couple of months previous.  There is no place in the world easier for an Australian to make new friends than the States.  As soon as people hear the accent when you order your first beer, people want to know where you’re from.  What are you doing here?…  I made friends everywhere I went – Kuma’s corner, the Empty Bottle, the Metro.  In contrast, I met no locals in Norway.  Finland was a little easier – mainly because they are massive drunks just like the Scots.

Like the Eloi, the beautiful Swedes wanted little to do with this grey, hairy Morlock.   My Swedish colleagues have been polite when I have visited for work.  However those men are pilots.  They are natural extroverts in a nation of people that generally keep to their own.

Even at those work meetings, the Swedes often talk amongst themselves in Swedish, excluding the rest of the room from the dialogue. I’m in their country, so I can’t complain.  I should be able to speak their language.

My host for this long weekend in Stockholm, Sara, and her gentlemen friend, Johan, were brilliant…  and their friends tried – but for large chunks of Saturday night, I found myself staring at my shoes whilst the Swedes talked around me in their native tongue.

Swedish people speak excellent English and it is polite that include a stranger at all in their conversation… but the English quickly drifts away.  Amongst a pub of Swedish chefs speaking past you, you are left alone with your thoughts.  You begin to write the plot of your second novel and choosing the soundtrack for the eventual screen adaption.  In my flat in Glasgow, the soundtrack is a pretty depressing affair – lots of Mogwai, Cocteau Twins.  Tonight the Swedish version stars Entombed, Meshuggah…  and Refused!

We may not make any new friends, but in the week ahead, our hosts will show us the beauty of the unique town of Stockholm.  To close the week our old Swedish friends in Refused will show us the beauty of their unique brand of punk.