Ozric Tentacles, MantisMash & Forked Tongue
Wednesday, 30th October 2013
Islington O2 Academy, London, the UK
Greeted by the usual courteous and highly professional staff of the Islington Academy and passing through the relaxed atmosphere of the punters milling in the lobby,
I could hear that openers, Forked Tongue had already begun (and played two songs from their half hour slot) as I entered the venue.
I love that shockwave of low frequency thump that you get when you walk into the stage area of a gig from the undisturbed air of a bar or the merch desk.
It immediately raises the adrenaline and pricks a thrill down the hairs of my neck as my chest cavity absorbs these sonic blasts and my ears beg mercy from the
sudden assault of sensory input. I can't help grinning.
Picking my way to the front through the healthy assembly, I am impressed by an audience that supports the support acts. Forked Tongue are giving it large.
Sweating and pulsating to muster a barrage of politically fuelled agit-rap rock that immediately brings
'90s act Senser to mind but with a more prominent role for the electronic, programmed, synthy, psytrancy, drum n bassy energy that drives the overall sound.
It's ferocious and the power and volume are overwhelming, in a good way. A really good way. It's not my usual or chosen cup of bile and vitriol but it's definitely infectious.
Lead Vocalist, Pezmo Slater is like a spitting, grimy Zack de la Rocha fused with Rob Calvert on crack.
The man is a bull, I don't speak bull and I don't speak Pezmo. I can barely pick out a word of his delivery it's so fast.
It's like being licked in the face by an enthusiastic Great Dane, his force and commitment is compelling and irresistible.
Synth man, Matty is almost invisible behind his keyboard banks; bent and concentrated, he twiddles and tweaks and I love the result.
Bassist, Vinny Shilitto is a towering, if not intimidating presence and as to the matter at hand, his playing is first rate.
What's more he was a former Ozrics bassist - it's hard to put the two together, but there you go.
A very strong opening to the night summed up in Pezmo's raised fist and clenched salute.
Curiously, I checked out their web presence and the songs they share online give absolutely no indication of the explosive, quarry-blasting force in a live setting.
Whilst it may sound a little dated today, they are definitely bringing something fresh to a niche genre, but if this sounds like your thing and you're curious to check them out,
see them live first. Their current recorded output is no comparison.
Next up is MantisMash who is Israeli Natan Lenski (I say Israeli, all I know for certain is that he's from Tel Aviv - the two don't necessarily go together).
He's a Laptop musician whose skill lies in mastering soft instruments.
Be under no illusion that this is somehow easier or less credible than a man with a guitar or a drummer with tubs,
it's a whole musical craft in and of itself and I won't have electronic artists sullied with poo-pooage!
I happen to be a bit of a fan of all things electronic and synthy from Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze to the most contemporary,
genre-bending artists operating all over the world right now so I don't speak from a standpoint of ignorance and, despite Lenski's particular vibe being extremely complex,
I'm not out of my depth here. MantisMash is a peculiar fusion of many electronic styles that Lenski has mutated and combined to create a pretty
unique and undoubtedly progressive take on some of the more experimental peddlers of this kind of music.
If you think Prog is hard to classify, this is as nothing compared to electronic music.
There are so many sub-genres and genres within sub-genres that it's very easy to misplace an artist's sound.
Most of the interesting work is a conflation of many genres and adapted influences from the last 2 decades,
so what I describe now is at best an estimation and I hope it doesn't misrepresent MantisMash.
What we have here is an amalgam of psychedelic, broken beat, glitch-hop, with plenty of wobblestep, and psydub thrown in. Let's call it 'Whompadelic'.
It isn't one thing or another - it's MantisMash. I would point to Amon Tobin, Ott, late-era ColdCut,
spliced with the extreme jiggery-tweakery of Outolintu, Xenofish or Itsu and maybe German artist Lars Goossens' Cybernetika for bang up to date references.
The alternative viewpoint could easily be that it's just a bunch of speaker commands. Herein lies the problem.
Lenski's music is overflowing with masses of microdynamics that shift and morph from section to section creating the aforesaid complexity but melodically and rhythmically,
the thematic framework is indiscernible. It's probably meant to be that way, but I don't particularly like it.
It merges into an indivisible and repetitive whole interspersed with pleasing 'movements', like Swobble (one of the tracks from his EP, Cryptic Growth)
which is recognizable for it's inclusion of sampled brasses that goes just perfectly with the funkier elements of MantisMash (think Opiuo or SunMon X)
but it never coalesced into a legible whole. It wasn't head-snapping or sufficiently toe-tapping for me,
I didn't want to dance and this kind of music should either do that or be such that it needs headphones and focused listening.
To be fair, I've just listened to the tracks on his Soundcloud site and they are much more coherent and work better with the attention they demand.
Incidentally, Natan's follows on Soundcloud led me to Somatoast, which is much more like it as far as I'm concerned, but I digress.
The sound balance coming from the desk was truly excellent once you backed away from the bass bins and appreciated it from the middle.
Watching a man at a laptop is never going to provide much of a spectacle, so a lot relies on the accompanying visuals that usually go with electronic music in a live setting.
For a while, I was transfixed by MM's until I realized they were on a loop, one cycle of which lasted about 7 or 8 minutes. Not good enough.
Overall then, a bit under-whelming. I don't doubt Natan's talent as a bit-wrangler, there's enormous creativity,
craft and skill at work and I encourage everyone to explore the vast world of modern electronic music for themselves.
Nor do I agree with the burly Welsh chap behind me who commented, "If that's what people are listening to these days, I'm at a loss",
plenty of people seemed to have enjoyed it and were politely, and sagely appreciative.
I suspect there were just as many who, like me, were a tad baffled.
The main event and Ozric Tentacles mount the stage for this date on their 30th Anniversary tour.
I must confess, I'm not a 'fan' as such, not because I dislike them, only because I've hardly heard anything by them.
I own one album (The Floor's Too far Away) that I randomly picked up in a Second Hand Shop. I like it and I sort of know what to expect.
A 'criticism' I've read levelled (more than once) at Ozrics is that they do what they do and don't really deviate from their successful formula:
Steve Hillage meets Gong (and from there to System 7) via Hawkwind in Goa to produce a thumping,
driven Space-Rock entity that is as likely to float in space as it is to shake the earth.
Heightened and textured by psytrance keyboard work and, in their more chthonic moments, the heavy flirtations with Dub, all of it is tinged with ethnic
(largely Eastern) modalities and masses of groove. Masses of groove.
These days, the line-up is a family affair with the husband and wife partnership of Ed (Guitars and Keys) and Brandi Wynne (Bass) accompanied by Ed's son Silas, also on keys.
They have a new drummer in Balázs Szende and he is superb. All night long he held down and drove the music along with élan and a smile.
He was accompanied by a percussionist of whom I can say little, but together with Brandi's bass they formed a truly formidable rhythm section.
A word or two about Brandi. It's incidental and unrelated to the music but she is a force of nature.
She came out and danced to the support acts in the pit (she loves MantisMash) encouraging the punters to join in.
She played stage technician and stage manager all night, setting up and striking gear.
She MC'ed, and smiled and waved and generally radiated a joyous vibe that was a tonic to behold in our cynical world.
Long time fans of the band may well say, "Of course she did - that's what she does",
but it was all new to me and I couldn't helped but be impressed and just a tiny little bit in love.
As for the set itself, don't ask me what they played, I haven't the foggiest notion, but it doesn't matter, nights like tonight are what is great about being a music fan;
seeing three artists about whom I know little to nothing but having the time of my life encountering and discovering them.
The Ozrics glided through a stunning set that sometimes skimmed and washed and drifted and sometimes thumped and stormed and raced and raved.
Always underpinned by Brandi's coiling and loping basslines, I love it when they open up.
Ed's lead guitar work is thrilling and visceral and the fantastic keyboard work is a defining feature of the band's sound.
Add to all of this the superb visual projections that served up a mesmeric, fractal feast of pineal goodness to add a captivating counterpoint to the music.
Much kudos to the designer, again I don't know who she or he is. More kudos to the sound guy.
Yet again, the sound balance was perfect from the centre of the room (for those of you who've never been,
Islington Academy has a badly designed upper gallery that juts half way into space, so standing at the back to get the whole sound picture doesn't work,
you have to go to the middle). My only complaint about the sound is that the mics were too low so whatever they were saying between songs was largely lost.
Overall The Ozrics (naturally) stole the show. Beautiful and joyous, Ed and Brandi were clearly enjoying themselves immensely.
They possess an intimacy and approachability and positive regard for their fans that is utterly genuine and heartfelt.
I emerge into the night with my spirit uplifted. Sexy out of 10.
Ozric Tentacles Official Website
MantisMash Official Website
Forked Tongue Official Website
Islington O2 Academy