Mondays are traditionally the most rubbish weekday. Sobering thoughts of work and general adulthood responsibility tend to creep in around sunset on Sundays as I prepare to be a slave to the alarm for the next five days. My Mondays were brightened during the winter by the ukulele hootenanny in Hoxton which was both a great catch up with mates and a chance to make some joyful noise with other enthusiasts. Summer has been so hectic that “Team Uke” has taken a bit of a back seat, but I think we’ll pick it up again soon.
One of my uke playing buddies and I actually ventured back to the same bar last Monday, but for another sort of noise entirely. Hoxton Square is usually really quiet on the first school night of the working week, but that night it was teaming with an interesting mix of patrons. We were all there to see A Place To Bury Strangers (APTBS), an American noise rock trio based in New York which were a relatively new discovery for me. I of course went to get myself a t-shirt on arrival, which was where we noticed there were little branded pill boxes on the merchandise table. We had to ask the vender what they were, who clarified they contained ear plugs. This made a lot of sense, and we swiftly took the hint and purchased a pair each.
Inside the 300 capacity venue itself it felt such a far cry from the cavernous O2 (Pearl Jam) or the expansive Victoria Park (Patti Smith), but it felt luxurious to be able to get right up close to the stage and feel like a teenager again. The lights dimmed and we could see the shapes of the band as they took to the stage in such a thick cloud of smoke you could barely make out their features. Through the fog came blasting out a scream of guitar of such a volume that those ear plugs we’d fortuitously bought were actually essential.
Spinal Tap made famous the amp that could play at volume 11; this band have found level 20, and that’s not an exaggeration. They are ear splittingly loud, but this is the only correct way to hear their screeching, wailing, full throttle tracks. This band makes a lot of noise just through my headphones at work, but live they are another level of awesome. My friend’s accurate description was: “They’ll rip you a new ear drum”. An unrelenting, blistering series of subversive squeals that excite and delight; I would describe their sound as post-punk, experiential kind of alt-psychedelic rock with definite gothic flavour.
In fact the whole scene took me back to Fort Lauderdale over a decade ago where another friend and I were lucky enough to see the goth-metal group Type O Negative. The atmosphere was very similar, exciting and gloomy, (but not depressing) and a real sense of comradery among the fans. The lead singer and bassist, Pete Steele, was a tower of a man with such a command of the crowd the experience became spiritual. Steele sadly passed away a few years later so that memory feels quite special to me. Watching the also tall and long haired vocalist/guitarist of Strangers, Oliver Ackermann, commune with his devotees revived that same feeling; only this time we were close enough to reach out and touch him.
It did feel like the spirit was moving me through the thick smoke, and while the majority seemed to enjoy themselves by merely nodding along, I had to celebrate the punk exuberance they were invoking in me and dance with abandon. The tension was evidently not just with the crowd as Ackermann smashed his guitar into the stage after only performing a few songs which surprised everyone. He them finished the gig with a third of his guitar’s body missing which was equally as strange as incredible.
Brief respite from the wall of noise came towards the end of the show with the drummer Lia Simone Braswell singing a beautiful solo accompanied by a harp under an eerie yellow light. The final song of the night was my favourite, the song that introduced me to them months ago and had me instantly hooked: “I Lived My Life To Stand In The Shadow Of Your Heart“. Failing to start a pit earlier in the show I was tempted to try again, but instead I just danced like a woman possessed.
Without much fanfare at all, the band then exited the stage down some stairs right next to where we were standing and we could congratulate both Braswell and other guitarist Dion Lunadon as they made their way to the dressing room. They were both so kind and thankful and seemed genuinely happy to be there. Filing out of the room towards the bar and dripping with sweat we stopped for a comfort break before heading home.
Coming out I looked down a walkway heading towards the bar and recognised the back of Ackermann’s t shirt in front of me. I pointed it out to my friend and we both automatically walked up to him to thank him for such a good show. He was also incredibly gracious and spared a minute to take a quick fan photo with us which was the cherry on top of an amazing night.
I floated home feeling so uplifted. My friend and I both agreed the night was a spiritual experience. It may have been one of the best gigs I have been to. Bold claim I know, but there was something so extra about it. I wish every week started this way.