Two thirds of An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump returned to the stage early on Sunday afternoon to open the day again, this time in their guise of Eve Black/Eve White. As with their other group, the duo can’t be described as an exciting live act in the traditional sense, but their deep vocal stylings and haunting electronics sent a shiver down the spine and once again spread an instant atmosphere around the tent, not least with a superb cover of Otis Blackwell’s Fever.
The next act, Maria and the Mirrors, had more in common than An Experiment... than the Eves, with their drums and bass guitar set-up, but also shared a distinctive hypnotising tribal wail with Effi Briest. As far as the two ladies literally mirroring each other on the drums and pumping out these soulful evocations went, they were a fascinating live act, with elements of New York punk-funk groups ESG and Liquid Liquid; but the fly in the ointment was their bassist, who lurked at the back of the stage between the two. The framing effect and the drums and costumes made the whole performance look a bit like a pagan sacrifice, and the imposing central figure exerted an extreme influence, jabbering horribly into the microphone and actually halting the drummers with his hand several times. The distorted bass gave the sound a thrilling edge in contrast to the drums and chanting, but the overall impression was simply one of ego. If that’s reined in, though, Maria and the Mirrors will prove a promising addition to the shriekbeat canon.
Occupying the next slot were O Children. The stage was an intriguing sight before they came on with its central microphone at least a foot higher than its partners on either side, but when the four-piece arrived they got straight down to a riveting set of no-nonsense post-punk. The immense presence of vocalist Tobias seemed to lend the whole band a sense of unity, and they tore through a brief set of songs ranging from creepily downbeat (Ace Breasts and Dead Disco Dancer) to creepily triumphant (Radio Waves). Their obsessive lyrics tie the disparate sounds together, and a set of melodies which are both substantial and instantly memorable make O Children an excellent package, and one which is sure to garner more attention. Listen now.
The Ruling Class swagger onto the stage and launch into their psychedelic Madchester sound as though they’re playing Brixton Academy. While the music they play is by no means original, it’s both unusual in modern indie rock, and possessed of an enticing vibrancy. Jonathan Sutcliffe on vocals bears a slight and highly appropriate resemblance to Ian Brown, and the riffs and harmonies on Flowers and Umbrella Folds scream Waterfall, but it’s difficult to criticise the energy the five-piece show, and far easier just to sit back and enjoy Tomas Kubowicz’s intricate guitar lines and Alfie Tammaro’s baggy backbeat. A couple of high-profile support slots in the near future should establish this band as firm ‘ones to watch’, and it seems likely that they’ll get the popular status that they so clearly crave. Whether their current material will hold up to radio scrutiny is a separate matter.
Having dropped vocalist Thomas Warmerdam only three weeks before their Offset performance, Electricity In Our Homes have become a jerky power trio with all three remaining members contributing vocals. These weren’t perhaps as strong as they could have been, and Warmerdam’s distinctive voice is still missed, but promising touches on a set of all-new material including an excellent cover of the Beach Boys’ Little Honda show a development already underway. This was after all their first gig as a three-piece, and in time the new format should offer more freedom to experiment for one of London’s most innovative bands.
As ever, The Violets gave a performance which is technically flawless and delivered with extreme competence: Alexis Mary is a perfect frontwoman, slinking across the stage to deliver everything from a croon to a shriek and even improvising to fill in for a missing melodica, and Joe Daniel’s guitar work gathers unsettling flickering and storms of noise in one masterful stroke, almost making the band’s rhythm section obsolete of his own accord (though they too are highly professional). There is something about them, though, which is slightly unsatisfying; I would say they lacked soul were it not for the emotional depths of their songs, but it' probably just that they’re too polished and competent, especially when following the DIY charms of Electricity In Our Homes. Their set is highly enjoyable and very energetic, but slips past quickly without leaving much lasting impact. That’s hardly a complaint however, and I would hate to give the impression that they aren’t a great live band. See and enjoy them; they play rarely enough.
They’re followed by a much-anticipated set by Neils Children, who have been working in seclusion on their LP X.Enc. for the past few months. Some album tracks surface, including the revived Communiqué and Sometimes It’s Hard To Let Go, and recent single Reflective/Surface gets an enthusiastic reception, but more surprising is the presence in the set of older songs such as Stand Up and the closing attack of ancient-but-great single Come Down. Could it be that John Linger, ever the progressive, is finally embracing his band’s past? An interesting diversion is provided by the SKIPTheatre company, who perform a piece of PiL-soundtracked physical theatre before Neils Children take the stage, as well as skipping with hoops and scattering black feathers during An Exchange in an echo of the collaboration on the band’s latest video for I’m Ill.
The final performance of the evening, aside from a slightly dubiously-placed late set from electronic act Prinzhorn Dance School, were Ipso Facto, who proved the persistence of their current rise by filling the tent for the first time. The band have taken leaps and bounds since their early concerts, and their skill as musicians is now beyond question; Victoria Smith in particular has turned into a sharp and skilful drummer. Theirs isn’t exactly music to fight to, but they certainly created an eerily beautiful atmosphere in the packed tent with their sombre and serene psychedelia, before finishing with a triumphant new song in - controversially - a major key, which spread the smile from their faces throughout the audience. As happy, bob-haired aficionadoes spilled grinning out of the tent, it was obvious that Ipso Facto had taken another step on their ascendant road, and provided the perfect way to close the Experimental Circle Club tent for the weekend.