Sun Ra's Arkestra - 93 Feet East, London

Anyone who has been down Brick Lane in London’s East End will be familiar with 93 Feet East, the ubiquitous venue with its black and pink type font. It’s the chosen venue for the Hokaben festival, which has been spread out over three days here. Friday night’s bill included Don Callabero and Fucked Up, while Saturday had Acid Mothers Temple, Kid 606 and other highlights. On Sunday night it’s the turn of Sun Ra’s Arkestra – featuring much of the great man’s original backing band line-up, including Marshall Allen, a member of the group since 1958.

First, though, there’s a whole afternoon of acts to explore, including the deafening Bromancer, a trio of drums, voice and deafeningly loud guitar who make Merzbow sound like Simon & Garfunkel in comparison. Playing in the bar room area, they have song titles such as ‘Gut Yr Mass Over Many Days’ and sound like the bastard child of Swans and Wolf Eyes.

There is some kind of workshop going on in the third room, involving instructions on how to build an oscillator, but which is closed to anyone who has arrived too late. Meanwhile, the amusing prospect of an appearance by Il Goblini - a tribute band to 70s Italian soundtrack prog-rockers Goblin – is dashed by the fact that they have cancelled due to illness. Instead, much of the rest of the day is took up by various all-male bands who do their best to growl and grind out riffs, including a trio who perform that most masculine of onstage antics, taking their tops off. Lords, at least, have a grasp of a decent tune, and have the bonus of a drummer called Elvis with an MC5 t-shirt accompanying them their ply their squealing riffs and math-rock type grooves.

I’m Being Good in the second bar ply a far more oblique, idiosyncratic path, though no less dense on the riffs. Existing in one form or another since 1992, the band’s elastic-bending grooves and difficult time signatures wrap their way around Andrew Clare’s voice.

The third room, meanwhile, has been opened, with a deeply bored looking dude sitting behind the bar; he’s soon to be woken from his torpor by Defibrillators, who manage to pull off the impossible by being even louder than Bromancer earlier on in the day. Coming from only two people – a heavily bearded, shaven-headed individual spasmodically pummelling his drumkit while contorting into various facial gestures, and his mate punching a laptop repeatedly, which produces various excruciating squealing noises – this is no mean feat. Like Bromancer earlier, they are both intrinsically funny in their bombast and somehow entrancing in the intensity of music, as if the extremes of noise music inspire a kind of catharsis.

Concurrently in the main hall, Gravenhurst appear in the solo guise of main man Nick Talbot, whose lilting, melancholy style and shivering, tremolo guitar makes a calming intermission from the storm and intensity of much of the rest of the bill. The set finishes in superb fashion, with his guitar rising in volume and dynamics as it shimmers and pulsates, adding waves and waves of guitar that fill the venue before coming to a halt, Talbot exiting the stage to a rapt audience.

Boduf Songs also provide a much-needed respite, with a sound just as minimal and sparse as Gravenhurst. A trio of soft, sparse drums (often using a violin bow and beaters), guitar and vocals, they play a haunting, hushed, textured set that brings to mind Movietone and Low, with singer Matt Sweet whispering the lyrics while minimally strumming his acoustic guitar. Despite tuning problems bedevilling the set, it’s an intense gig, with a quiet audience, whose spell is only broken when the cheer for the onstage arrival of The Sun Ra Arkestra in the neighbouring main room can be heard. The ridiculousness of the contrast – the Arkestra’s bombastic first song, with it’s ZX Spectrum-like atonal primitive computer game sound played on an instrument identified as a “morrow” by veteran member Marshall Allen, while the other members hit their stride with some serious cosmic jazz, compared with the trio’s minimal atmospherics – induces a laugh in Boduf Song’s small audience.

And so to the close of the festival, with the aforementioned Allen – now switched to saxophone - conducting the rest of the act, who must number somewhere in the region of twelve or thirteen people, all somehow cramped on 93 Feet East’s stage, including a percussionist, several woodwind players, a double-bass player, and more. They look incredible, with all members draped in quasi-African robes and space attire, and for two hours take the venue somewhere else, with an unforgettable set of flowing jazz – both free and more traditional - that evokes the ghost of their deceased leader and his cosmological obsession. As they exit the stage after a final speech and introduction to the band by member Knoel Scott, the ovation from the audience lasts for a long time afterwards. What a way to end a festival.

Last updated: 18/04/2018 21:23:05

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