As Protomartyr headline a superlative night of punk and post-punk at The Magnet, Getintothis’ Paul Higham celebrates the continuing cultural legacy of the North of England.
Despite hailing from Detroit, Michigan you could be forgiven for thinking that tonight’s headliners, Protomartyr, were shaped by the hard rock edges of the north of England. Indeed, throughout the performance, the inescapable point of reference was The Fall.
Emerging to taut and mellifluous bass rhythms the performance was characterised by a lean angularity and persistent, some might say repetitive, minimalism that allowed Joe Casey’s performance to really shine through.
While owing much to Mark E Smith in his wasp-sucking vocal delivery, further allusions were drawn when looking at the band. Much like The Fall’s current incarnation, there is a considerable age divide between Casey and his band members, which is emphasised by their contrasting attire.
For although the guitarist, bassist and drummer are turned out in conventionally functional bandwear, Casey dresses like a slightly ill-at-ease college lecturer, all tweed jacket and buttoned-up shirt. This feels relevant to the band’s sound and, in particular, the chasmic aloofness between the music and the vocal delivery.
This haughty disconnect, indeed Casey struck a dismissively patriarchal figure throughout, making as if a visual cross between David Cameron and Louis Van Gaal, seemed to find echoes in the music. That the edgily spiky guitars and the urban leanness of the rhythms often sat uneasily alongside the drawling vocal delivery reflected the chaotically uncertain nature of modern life.
Musically the band owed more to post-punk than to punk itself. Much was characterised by that distinctive leanness and edge, the knowing when to hold back, exercise restraint and to build up tension. Casey’s distinctively laconic vocal delivery was a sufficient aid to this, yet there was also another if unexpected side to the performance.
Elements of hip-hop informed the performance as Casey’s vocals weaved symmetrically around the taut rhythmic structures of his songs . It was striking how powerfully angry everything sounded while remaining perfectly controlled and utterly at balance with itself.
A key skill in play was the masterful control of the crowd. There was an instinctive understanding of when to release the grip on the reins and allow the music to unwind into heady delirium. At others, the band would hold back and allow the tension to build to stiflingly unbearable levels. Yet by the end of the show, all such caution had been abandoned.
The tension of the working week washed free, the crowd moshed with gleeful abandon, supporting bands crowd surfed in blissful hedonism and all felt right with the world.
Fuelling a well-articulated and bristling anger and translating it into joyous escapism takes real skill and Protomartyr passed the test with flying colours.
Earlier we had been treated to two superlative support slot sets by a brace of bands whose stars are clearly ascendant.
Opening act Ohmns were nothing short of terrific. Making light of technical problems that might have sidelined other bands there was a sense of a band revelling in not taking themselves too seriously. Yet there was much to admire.
Embracing a satisfyingly broad palette they bring together dark garage and krautrock propulsion, fusing it with a sense of avant-garde experimentalism and howling hardcore punk.
What might read like a disjointed melting pot nonetheless comes across as nothing short of thrilling. Pleasingly, this felt like a step up from their earlier showing at Buyers Club at the GIT Award launch night. A tighter and leaner performance, the sense remained that chaos was always only a quarter turn away.
Indeed, on occasions the band descended into squalls of discordant noise, exhorting shrills of feedback from already strained amplifiers and strumming guitars with microphones and beer bottles. As the band finished they descended into an unbridled cacophony, with various band members laying prone and pushing their instruments to their absolute limit, eeking out waves of intense caterwauling noise.
Ohmns are a band with lots of rough edges and the trick for them will be in selectively polishing and honing, ensuring that they remain exhilaratingly unpredictable.
Having suggested them to be a “proper band”, Bad Meds might just provide a template for Ohmns to follow. They possess a more honed and singular sound and present a full-bodied dark and intensely bludgeoning noise that treads a line somewhere between American hardcore punk and a peculiarly Northern post-punk disaffection.
Their ferocious onslaughts were accompanied by Paul Rafferty’s compelling stage presence, offering uncompromising howls and Mark E Smith-esque spoken word drawling monologues.
Making Ohmns, by comparison, feel light and melodic, Bad Meds deal in walls of ferocious sonic blasts that are heavy, intense and foreboding. None more so than on their set closer, a dramatic reworking of Bill Drummond’s Grim Up North, as place name after place name was bellowed with obvious relish.
Grim might be the popular perception of the north in certain southern quarters, but on the evidence of tonight not only does its influence extends way beyond its borders, it also has a right to assert its own rich cultural heritage. Grim? Nah.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Tom Adam