At the end of tonight’s Spirit of Gravity at the Rossi Bar, the collective’s current Life President, Geoff ‘Cheesemaster’ Reader, resplendent in auburn wig, tells us it’s been 23 years since their first event. In what is often a hostile climate for promoters and venues alike it’s a laudable achievement, and testament to the passion that Geoff and his group have sustained throughout those years. Given that they cater for the fringes of experimental electronic music, the fact that not only are they still going but packing out this (admittedly smallish) venue demonstrates a dogged sense of community.
The reason so many came out, in spite of Storm Henk battering us with wind and rain, may partly be that the night – most likely the first show of the year for many in the audience – provides a remedy for the restrictive traditionalism of the Christmas period. Finally we can all get back to an environment where it’s normal to be weird, in the bosom of drone, noise, broken beats, improvisation, the comfort of unease.
Proceedings kicked off with veteran drone purveyors Plurals, who in one form or another have featured in GoS’s line-ups for over a decade. Using an array of effects units, guitar, keyboard, voice and a theatrically whacked cymbal, a slimmed down line-up of Daniel Mackenzie and David Hamilton Smith built up a hypnotic, howling soundscape. Underpinned by juddering rhythmic clicks, the layers of accumulating noise built to a room-shaking climax. There was a touch of the shamanic, the meditative, the therapeutic.
You can really tell something has become an institution when it has its own catchphrases. After the applause for Plurals had died down we were told we had a 20-minute break and encouraged to “please drink heavily at the bar”, a phrase gleefully echoed by a few in the crowd – the Brighton music scene’s equivalent of “Nice to see you, to see you nice!”
The guitar loopings of Expedient Self followed the recess. Uneasy arpeggios intertwined with twangy melodies sounding at once sci-fi, baroque, Morricone-esque, like the creepy leitmotifs of the murderer in a movie soundtrack. A beguiling tonality, melancholy and otherworldly, was conjured by the skilful musicianship, as a surprising range of sounds was wrangled out of the instrument. After the onslaught of Plurals this was a withdrawn breather, like a limbo, a dream that dissipates leaving barely a trace of its arcane message once the reverberations have died away.
Last on was Xylitol, Cat Backhouse’s minimal jungle-focused electronica. Bubbling under a bed of minimal bass and synth patterns, jungle breakbeats crashed away, sounding distant and nostalgic, at times getting slightly buried beneath the synth sequences. This was perhaps a mixing issue, but the presence of those 90s breaks is referential, not meant to recreate the bone-shaking immediacy of the original incarnation. Though there was dancing to be had, it’s the dreamy, reminiscent kind.
When the Cheesemaster took to the stage at the end to thank us for coming, he reassured us that The Spirit of Gravity is on an upwards trajectory, each show better than the last, with the next one, in a month’s time, guaranteed to surpass tonight’s. The spirit of The Spirit of Gravity is welcoming, encouraging, a haven for creativity without barriers. The freshness of the new year brings a feeling of thanksgiving for the fact that there are communities (along with sister promoters like Club Zygotic and Lost Property) relentlessly dedicated to platforming grassroots experimental music and providing these regular rituals for the irreligious.
Rossi Bar, Thursday 4th January 2023