Shipley Community Centre, June 6, 2015
Look at that man moving so strangely. Look at how he bobs his head and flicks his shoulders back and forth. Is he gonna take his hands out of his pockets? Is he?? They were out a second ago but then swiftly returned. I just don’t think he knows what to do with his arms. His legs as well . . . they’re moving also. I hadn’t noticed. His knees dip and return, dip and return . . . He seems awkward and self-conscious. Why is he moving like that? Why doesn’t he just stand still? There are other people around him not moving; just listening to the music; why does he insist on shuffling about in that manner if, as seems so plainly to be the case, he can’t give himself entirely to the music, held back by his stifling awareness of the gracelessness of his body’s movements?
Is the question, exactly a week after the evening spent listening to drone, electronica and techno in the community hall in West Yorkshire, that I’m now asking myself, sat here in the front room of my house in Salford, SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE on TV on DAVE. And it’s a question to which I don’t have an answer.
My girlfriend had told me about this night in Shipley, a 10 minute train ride outside of Leeds, which she’d been to. Ace, she’d said it had been. GOLDEN CABINET. My mate from work, Gareth, had told me he’d read something in WIRE about how it was all happening in Shipley. Coz I’m a dopey bastard though I hadn’t realised he was referring to this night GOLDEN CABINET as well. Everyone wants to go to GOLDEN CABINET I eventually realised. So entirely in the spirit of bandwagon jumping I went as well. And I danced. Or, at least, I did what passes for dancing for me. Something which still feels kinda remarkable even now.
As long as I’ve been going to gigs the routine has always been: be all excited about them when they’re, like, a month in the future or whatever; then, on the day of the gig, become convinced that going out will prove to be far more effort than it’s worth and just a giant drag et cetera and that I’d be much better off sat at home watching CORONATION STREET – at which point one of two things will happen: I will indeed either [a] remain at home and watch CORONATION STREET or I will [b] drag my sorry ass to wherever the action is. If I do manage to get out I will invariably go on to have an amazing time and vow to devote the rest of my life to taking in as much live music as possible. Last Saturday, pre GOLDEN CABINET, was slightly different though. Yep, I’d gone through the ‘this is gonna be a lot of effort and a drag’ stage but, seemingly, I’d gone through it somewhat earlier than usual: the day of the event I just found myself excited and very much looking forward to the forthcoming gig.
An excitement fuelled, somewhat to my surprise, by the media – both trad and social. That morning a preview of GOLDEN CABINET and a brief run through of its history had appeared in the GUARDIAN online. GOLDEN CABINET’S twitter feed contained a huge number of mentions of the night retweeted from other sources. Also in their twitter feed were links to the two WIRE reviews of the last events they’d held (or perhaps that’s not true. Perhaps I’m only imagining I saw those reviews online as well. I definitely saw them but I did so in copies of the mag Gareth leant me. Whatever). The reason for all this attention seemed mainly to do with GOLDEN CABINET’S location: Shipley. How has this obscure town in Yorkshire managed to become such an important place in contemporary electronic music seemed to the gist of much of the coverage. And I was left feeling a bit uncomfortable by what felt to me the slightly patronising and amused tone of this line of enquiry. 7PM in Shipley is the new 2AM in Berlin, I’d read somewhere. The intention of which seemed to be, to me, not to elevate 7PM in Shipley to the, I presume, supposed olympian heights of coolness of 2AM in Berlin but, rather, to shore up that more established position by contrasting it to a town no one had heard of and a time when serious (lol) clubbers are probably just having their cornflakes.
All that said though, the question of GOLDEN CABINET’S location is interesting I think. I’m not trying to suggest its being based in Shipley is irrelevant; no, far from it. I’ve wondered, and am still wondering (kind of), would the night have received as much attention as it has if it’d been based in a major city? If GOLDEN CABINET had been a Leeds or a Manchester or a Liverpool thing would it have stood out as much? My immediate answer is ‘no’ but then I think of the ISLINGTON MILL bods in Salford who are doing similar things to GOLDEN CABINET and, well, the media managed to find them amongst everything else that’s going on in Manchester / Salford. Plus, as well, GOLDEN CABINET had two years of events under its belt before the night I was at – so that’s two years of slow build towards earning its reputation as, as Gareth has said to me, the only place in the north currently hosting exciting and innovative electronic music. Trying to say that reputation was won, then, because the night had based itself away from the competition would clearly be a nonsense.
Shipley, or at least the bit of Shipley that I saw between the train station and the community hall, was concrete, stone and grass. Much like any northern town. The only thing setting it apart from its Greater Manchester equivalent was that there was more grass visible. You just don’t get that much grass in Manchester. The place felt BLEAK – which, last night, my girlfriend said I shouldn’t say for fear of offending any Shipley residents. No offence meant to anyone from Shipley though – the comment applies pretty generally across the whole of the north. We continued on our way through the town’s streets following Google maps. At some point though we were able to put our phones away as the bass that we could hear thudding from somewhere ahead told us where our destination was.
The ‘turns’ playing that night were AHRKH; SOME TRUTHS and VESSEL. Prior to that evening I’d heard nothing by either of them. I had read, though, a couple of DISCOGS reviews of some SOME TRUTHS material that Gareth had sent me at work. Incredibly hyperbolic stuff: “makes music like you’d imagine the wizard of Oz would make”. I was excited about hearing this dude. All I knew of VESSEL was that he’d featured in a WIRE cover article about the new Bristol sound a year or so earlier. The issue containing that article then being in my bag back at my girlfriend’s flat, having been leant to me by Gareth (and currently languishing in my bedroom. Still unread. Soz Gazza). I was excited about hearing this dude. Though slightly less excited about hearing him than I was SOME TRUTHS. I’m sure VESSEL will recover from this bombshell.
AHRKH started before I realised they had. At first I thought the DJ had just taken his record choices in a more interesting direction away from the, what seemed to me, generic techno that had been playing when we entered the hall; the repetition of the sounds though – seemingly the same record, again and again, getting so far before being wound back – made me realise that something was going on. As well, I saw that down near the front a couple of rows of attentive listeners had formed. AHRKH, I had learned from a poster over by the serving hatch near where beer and vegan cake was on sale, was the solo project of a geezer out of Islington Mill psychedelic drone heroes GNOD; accordingly, the sounds that were beginning to fill the space began to make sense to me.
Sounds that seemed to me ELEMENTAL. One lone bloke – long black coat; black hoodie pulled up; black beard – somehow managing to create sounds which suggested to me what I imagined the earth’s formation might have sounded like. BOLD CLAIM. But anyway . . . Stood in a small room in Shipley I felt somehow like I was present at THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD. Yes, BIG-BANG conditions successfully recreated.
The visuals projected behind the dude and onto the ceiling: am I remembering those correctly as images of molten lava bubbling and the like or have I just added those today, some weeks after the event, feeling that’s what we should have been seeing? I don’t know. From this remove I have no way of knowing either. The projections, though, became kind of irrelevant as the images the sounds were planting in my brain became much more compelling than whatever we’d been presented with. And in my brain I was seeing the earth’s prehistory: enormous tectonic plates slowly coming together round the earth’s core. The joining bangs echoing down the centuries to resound through us as vibrations of joy at being alive and in the world. All conjured up, seemingly, by one bloke hunched over a bank of equipment playing a record for a moment, stopping it, then pulling it back to the beginning before letting it play again. It wasn’t break beats we were hearing it was monolithic slabs of sound. Alongside ELEMENTAL a second word I was thinking of was PROGRESS. The repetition, strangely, had to it a forward momentum of getting somewhere. Where AHRKH was taking us though I had no idea.
An additional layer to those sounds was added by AHRKH geezer chanting over the top of the noises he was pulling from his decks and electronics. He seemed to be giving his devotions to nature for creating the earth beneath us all. It was not GOOD TIMES music. It was, though, an impressive, mighty noise that forced the listener to think of both their and world’s origins and to think of how they, by their behaviour, might be impacting upon the world. My offering for AHRKH, if playing the game of ‘invented bullshit music genres’, would be ECO-RELIGIO DRONE. Try typing that into Amazon and see what results you get.
By contrast SOME TRUTHS very much was GOOD TIMES music. Confusing me again, though, by starting without making it obvious that he’d started (what, is this some kind of electronic music gimmick???). I’d noticed the equipment set-up over by the wall to the right of the stage but because it was off to the side I’d, rather stupidly (!), assumed its position was only temporary and that before SOME TRUTHS began playing he’d shift everything centre, front. He didn’t. Which I think is interesting . . . but before I get into why I think that’s interesting . . . Gazza had text me asking me to take a pic of how SOME TRUTHS had set his synth up (which was apparently a modular one. Whatever that means) but because I thought I had more time than I actually did in which to take that picture it ended up not getting taken (Gazza, here is your second apology: soz). Performing off to the side suggests a leaning towards wanting to be unobtrusive; a humility, I think? Which is cool. But how real is that humility given that the guy was one of the main acts of the night? There seems something of a contradiction there but, really, what were his choices: humility or be a nob head. So of course you opt for humility no matter what possible contradictions it might make visible.
And I danced. Or I did what I consider dancing. I left where I’d been sitting at the back to join the semi-circle gathered round SOME TRUTHS. I began just by watching him which gradually, when I realised I wanted to move, shifted more towards watching what the people around me were doing: a line-up of head-nodding, cautiously shimmying blokes in their thirties and upwards, broken by one sole kid energetically moving backwards and forwards from foot to foot. I absolutely wanted to be able to dance like that dude but possessing a very strong awareness of my limitations I, sadly, had to accept that that just wouldn’t be possible. Instead I turned to my tried and trusted indie shuffle, as described in detail some way above. And I had fun and, as my self-consciousness slowly fell away, even went so far as to enjoy myself. Which, tragic as it might seem (and, god yeah, it does seem sorta tragic to me) feels pretty dam noteworthy. These days, at gigs or whatever I usually just STAND STILL and listen. SOLEMNLY. Against my better judgement, against my habitual behaviour, against my learned behaviour SOME TRUTHS got me moving. And if at this point I can’t remember, as I can’t, much of how SOME TRUTHS sounded I think for me to say he made music (‘music’ note; this wasn’t the ‘sounds’ or ‘noise’ of AHRKH) that made me move is pretty much all I need to say. It certainly feels like one hell of an endorsement to me.
I remember (I think I remember) points of light of light projected onto the ceiling and thinking that SOME TRUTHS music was somehow following or mirroring that light. He had his back to the people watching, never once turning round to acknowledge their presence, which – at the time – I took as yet another sign of his humility/coolness but, discussing all this with Gazza the following week, I realise now his not turning round was due to the difficulty of what he was doing and the levels of concentration required. The music was jazzy. Not of the easy-listening variety rather the demanding experimentation of an Ornette Colman or the like. When Gazza asked me to describe it I said it was squelchy. He said, what was the bass like? I said I didn’t remember there being any bass. He said there must have been bass underlying the synth noises. So ok then, there must have been (I’m wondering though, now, just what exactly it is that I’m reviewing here as it doesn’t seem to be the music as I’m making a pretty poor job of describing how that sounded – and I have even less to say about VESSEL than I’ve so far had to say about the two acts that preceded him. I guess I’m writing a review of the whole ‘going to GOLDEN CABINET’ experience with the music just being a part of that rather than the primary focus. Not the usual way of music reviews though is it? No. So perhaps something else I’m doing here might be ‘reinventing the traditional music review’???? Sounds good, yep. I’ll have that).
VESSEL built and built and built. What he was doing was more readily comprehensible than the sounds made by either of the preceding acts; which is to say that his music was more obviously aligned to the techno we’re used to hearing in bars and shops and the like. A comment given without a value judgement attached; I’m just saying. By the time he came on I’d returned to my seat at the back for a breather and nothing he did gave me cause to want to get down the front again. In fact, I sort of switched off whilst that dude was playing. My attention became focussed on one of GOLDEN CABINET’S organisers, watching him dance. Wasn’t dancing in a funny way; probably wasn’t even dancing in a way worthy of mentioning here; nevertheless, as watching him was what I was doing instead of actively listening to VESSEL I guess it’s reasonable to mention him (jesus, I’ve built this up into something that it so wasn’t): what the guy was doing was a kind of funky march on the spot. There. That’s all. I was proper liking watching him though (and pretty much since I started this review I’ve been thinking about what to do when I get to the point I’ve now reached – that of the extent of my incredibly limited commentary on VESSEL having been exhausted. One possible solution I considered was listening to some of his stuff online and then writing about that but pretending I was writing about the night, the stuff he played at GOLDEN CABINET. I’m sure that kind of thing must happen all the time. I decided not to go down that route though as (a) I just can’t be bothered listening to him now and (b) it’d obviously be pretty dam bogus. What I have decided to do then is just hold my hands up and admit I have nothing much at all to say about the dude. Soz VESSEL. So that said then – the final word on the night’s final act having just been given; which that was; that sentence just gone about having nothing to say about VESSEL – I guess this review must now be almost over then? Yes, it very nearly is. Just bar some closing remarks which will begin, immediately, the other side of this parenthesis . . .).
HERE. The night was TOP. I loved it. I loved the build-up to going; the going; the being there; the listening; the not-listening; the watching; the waiting for the train back to Leeds feeling as though we’d been part of something special; the thinking and writing about it afterwards. The only thing I didn’t love was that there are, so far, no more events scheduled. That that was the last GOLDEN CABINET for a while. There will be more though, apparently. And whenever the next one is I’ll be there. As should be everyone.