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Live Report - Fuck Buttons

Posted on Wednesday, 7 May 2014 | No Comments



Belligerently ugly and hostile...and that's just the venue!



If you call your act something like Fuck Buttons, you will inevitably find yourself hitting a ceiling at some point. Rather luckily for Andrew Hung and Benjamin Power, their particular ceiling has turned out to be much higher than anyone could have realistically expected. Whilst they have tempered the ultra-distorted formula introduced on Street Horrrsing with a tilt towards increasingly vivid dance music structures and occasional bursts of actual melody beneath the pervasive fuzz, that they have found themselves playing increasingly prestigious gigs at the likes of the Barbican, getting albums into the Top 40 and impressing Danny Boyle enough to grab a spot on the soundtrack of the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony has made the band a well-deserved success story that seems to have taken all by surprise, the duo themselves most of all.

All of which is to say, that they're now playing a room twice the size as the last time they were in Newcastle (where they put in an admirably sweaty, euphoric appearance at The Other Rooms whilst touring Tarot Sport) isn't much of a surprise. That they're in a venue usually host to sickeningly dreadful, misogynistic club nights for public school arseholes and the odd christ-are-they-still-going emo act, however, is. As a former student at Newcastle University, I remembered the old student union as being assuringly cheap, grotty and old school: in need of a good lick of paint, certainly, but the big black hole of a venue made for a good gig room, and worked well as a nightclub as well when the union could actually be bothered. 

What now sits in its place is as viable a symbol of how the whole of further education has had its heart and potential ripped out by a nightmare combination of rising anti-intellectualism, right-wing politics and the disaster of tuition fees as any other. It's a weird, bright white, lurid nightmare, a place at once deeply childish and yet bled dry of any of the vitality or joy that might spring up as a benefit. Every food outlet is just another crappy, over-priced chain store like everything else in the high street, an the decor is that of a anaesthetically bleak Travelodge bar. It's an empty, cynical shithole totally at odds with the remaining grandeur of the building that holds it - as with the rest of further education, the alluring front remains, but the insides have been ripped out, pissed on, buried deep in the mists of time. What was inside before may not have been worthy of nostalgia, but what's inside now is worthy of nothing but Betjeman's kind arsenal, a depressing monument to how our generation have been fucked over, and to just how complicit we've been in it.

 

Oh, sorry, you wanted me to write about the music? Alright then. Here to gee up the flagging bank holiday revellers are the main act's new label-mates Eaux, touting their wares ahead of the release of their debut album in June. A canny bit of business for ATP, sure (well, there's a first time for everything), but fortunately they prove a fine entree. The trio, rising from the ashes of the beguiling neo-shoegaze act Sian Alice Group, continue to place a premium on the ethereal and soaring vocals of Sian Ahern, but in their new guise the focus is placed much more firmly on dark electronic arpeggios and sinister beats. At their most strange, there's hints of a clubbed-up Broadcast to this new guise, and the band certainly find their own style amidst the kind of Komische and psychedelic touchstones in vogue at present. At times, it does sound like they're adding an unneccesary opacity to songs that might benefit from a bit more air, but it's a welcome return indeed for a group of musicians who never got the recognition they deserved last time around.

As with a lot of modern electronic performers, Fuck Buttons have had to grapple with the problem that what their performances on their own aren't exactly the most visually stimulating: there's a limit on how long a crowd will accept a bloke staring pensively at his wiring and un-purposefully twiddling a switch in lieu of anything else to do. To their credit, they've tried to rectify this in a slightly less obvious way than most. The requisite backdrop graphics are present, but with cameras front of stage capturing the duo's moves and feeding it into the footage for manipulation, the visuals are far more compelling and effective than just another pre-determined Powerpoint slideshow. There's also the matter of the duo's pleasingly odd set-up. Spread out over a table, there's a bewildering variety of distortion pedals and bits of samplers fed into children's toys, cheap microphones - all the better to scream incoherently into, my child - and all other kinds of cheap oddities, and not a laptop in sight. And, most significantly, there's the fact that these guys play fucking loud. The first half of the set is pummelling, sure, but the second half veers into My Bloody Valentine levels of sonic warfare - and that's 2008 vintage, not 2013 vintage. Never has a kick drum felt so aptly named as the metronomic blasts that roared out of the speakers during Surf Solar. Very few acts of any stripe can compete with the sheer visceral nature of this wall of sound.

For all their noise and force though, this performance also demonstrated the real levels of craft and attention to detail that have seen them consistently defy the odds. Opener Brainstorm manages the great trick of starting out at seemingly full force, yet notching up the noise several times over without ever feeling over-stuffed. Colours Move and Olympians boast some surprising and audacious chord choices amidst everything else going on within them, and the percussive shifts made on Slow Focus sound far more vivid in the flesh than on record. The feral, lurching hip-hop of The Red Wing is catchy and malevolent in equal measures, while main set closer Hidden XS manages to sound genuinely anthemic and positive without diminishing the violent core of the Fuck Buttons sound. Bowing out with an encore of Street Horrrsing opener Sweet Love for Planet Earth is a nice way of rounding up proceedings to date, but the track's powerful mixture of delicate, fragmented melody and euphoric screaming and noise just proves them to have always been a very distinctive prospect amidst the experimental electronics and noise scene they first emerged from. Almost in spite of themselves, Fuck Buttons are something of a class act.

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