Photograph by Eleonora Collini. See the full gallery here.
Marks out of ten are useful for some things; they’re an easy way to start a debate, a quick method of heaping condemnation or praise on a piece of work. But we’re utterly relieved that we don’t have to provide this show with one. How exactly do you quantify the objective worth of something so wilfully bizarre?
Some background: tonight is a performance (in its most abstract sense) by two men, Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu and Eugene S. Robinson, singer of Oxbow. They’re presenting a new project, Sal Mineo, a band whose mission is to “plumb the cooling depths of a pleasure cruised death trip” (a description that makes just as little sense after having seen them as it does reading it before).
It takes the form of Stewart sat at a table that’s laden with various percussive devices and electronic wizardry through which he mutates the sound of his fists hitting a keyboard until he achieves a sound reminiscent of a fire in a slaughterhouse. That’d be frightening enough on its own, but add to it the vocals of Robinson, who sits on a modest wooden chair to Stewart’s left, slowly whispering, howling and grunting a stream of consciousness narrative – pausing occasionally to remove items of clothing – and it’s downright terrifying.
Most of Cafe Oto’s audience seem transfixed, motionless in their seats, barely able to lift their delicious craft ales to their lips but one woman, stood directly in front of us, is intent on making herself a part of the show – whooping, dancing, grinding to this music as if she’s on a Club 18-30 holiday. Perhaps that’s where she thinks she is. Though we don’t join in with the shouts of ‘shut up and sit the f*ck down’ aimed her way, I’m in agreement with the crowd that she is being incredibly annoying. However, her peculiar behaviour provides the show an extra edge that makes Robinson’s performance all the more menacing; the regular glares he fixes on this woman (who is prone to shouting things like “Eugene, Eugene, what does your penis think?”) when he’s in mid flow are filled with such hatred that we wonder if we’re mostly spellbound by the spectacle because of what seems like a very real possibility that he’s about to punch her in the face.
He doesn’t, of course – we overhear them having what seems like a rather pleasant conversation at the merch table afterwards. Her reading of the show is as valid as ours, we guess – it’s certainly not my position to suggest what the correct reaction to music so leftfield should be, if indeed you can even call this ‘music’ (I’m aware of how broad that term is, but if there was ever a time to call something performance art, we think it’s this). Improvisational noise, experimental, semi-poetic ranting, the constant tip toeing along a line between fury and despair; we’re still not sure if it was brilliant or one of the most self indulgent gigs we’ve seen in ages. But to its credit, we couldn’t take our eyes off it, whatever it was.