Sometimes you don’t know how you really feel until it’s spat back at you in a howl of noise by a man in a clown mask. Am I right? Having tapped our feet to the instrumental niceties of Cousin and enjoyed the taut noise pop of a desperately young duo from London called Cassels, we weren’t quite ready – and perhaps that means we were perfectly primed – for the sonic onslaught of Vincent Vocoder Voice.
Dressed in uniform black, the four-piece came onstage for some last minute tuning, each with their faces obscured by various means: singer/guitarist (aforementioned clown mask), bassist (terrorist balaclava), keyboardist/guitarist (bank robber tights) and drummer (sweaty rock hair). Usually, when we’re confronted by a band wearing masks, we either expect comedy music or something arty and annoying. Not so: as soon as the band got going their appearance ceased to be a gimmick. Instead the anonymity thing only added to the disjointed cluster of noises they call music.
It’s compelling stuff: meaty basslines underpinning surging guitars and vocals that veer from a cold monotone to anxiety-attack screaming. Overlaid with a backing track of film samples, eerie piano lines and extra fuzz, the songs themselves are a mix of full-on thrash and minor chord crescendos. There’s no choruses on offer tonight, no take-home hooks or even discernible riffs. But, somehow, despite all the random stabs of distortion and aural clatter, the songs are still driven by a powerful undertow of melody. There’s some great tunes, really.
Although they’ve got all the elements of a rock band, VVV avoid the pitfalls of the genre’s clichés without going overboard into the avant-garde realm of music that’s unlistenable for the sake of it. (If you want comparisons, let’s go for The Paper Chase with more angst – or a less self-sabotaging Xiu Xiu.) Likewise, the power isn’t in the volume. You could find louder, more intense music than this – perhaps at a metal gig or one of the wonky drum’n’bass nights they have down the Volks – but VVV’s forte is their use of dynamics. So often the songs seem to teeter on the edge of collapse, only to be saved by the finely-timed stops, drops and sudden tempo changes. This might sound weird, but the beauty of it lies in the barely controlled chaos and simmering threat of violence. Actually, it did sound weird.
And it kept us on our toes throughout (not that we tried dancing), simply because we didn’t know what was coming next. There’s plenty of bands in Brighton that like to mess with time signatures, but VVV make all that seem like math rock by numbers. It’s a joy to hear music so full of surprises even if that music is seemingly inspired by rage.
The band’s self-titled debut album, released last November on Brighton’s Sonic Anhedonic label, features a set of fairly ridiculous song names including ‘A Sudden Catastrophic Deflation Of Interest’ and ‘The Slow-Creeping Cacophony Of Compromise’. The lyrics to both are a jumble of unsettling and occasionally hilarious non-sequiturs. They make disturbing listening, if only due to the shock value of mixing up sexual slang with the names of medical diseases and obnoxious buzzwords from social media: not quite a critique of modern life, more a spewing forth of all the cultural detritus that builds up like toxins in the bloodstream.
Sadly, little of this comes across at tonight’s show. Either the mics are too quiet or Mr Vincent isn’t singing with enough gusto. It’s the only complaint in what was an incredible gig. The band’s awkwardly angular music is a perfect match for these sinister cut-up lyrics – just as the theme of alienation is mirrored in the row of faceless musicians. It’s rare these days to be pushed out our comfort zone, it’s rarer still that we enjoy every moment.
The Hope, Wednesday 4th June 2014
Words by Ben Bailey
Photo by Keita Lynch