Review: A Wilhelm Scream at The Borderline, London (March 15, 2014)

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Some gig reviews get written on the bus home. Some are written in an orderly way, the following morning with a nice pot of the black stuff, with a marshalling of the facts, a prosaic and faithful transcription of the show. Some are hurriedly scribed on the backs of hands before being finished, in haste, at 4am. But all are written – whether kindly or unkindly – from a place of arousal, with opinions being teased or tempted out, completed when one has emptied the mind of all it was provoked to say. That, amongst other truths, was utterly detonated by A Wilhelm Scream at the Borderline on Saturday night. Sitting down to write this almost 48 hours after the show, I am hampered by the total inability to feel – my sensibilities brutally, gloriously, majestically exploded. It is impossible to begin to get this show, to get near it, to enter its post code. The cliché is (almost) warranted: there are no words.

The Borderline is a scraggly place. A dusty, red curtain hangs behind the stage, framing the action like a poor school play. The sound is a little cruel. From anywhere other than five yards back, plum centre, it can sound a bit like a fart in a packet of Maltesers. But Gnarwolves, the featured support, fire gamely through, sweeping all away in the melody of the brilliant Community, Stability, Identity like a frenzied Menzingers, a proto-anthemic Parquet Courts.

No words, indeed. Let’s have a go. It’s owed. Opening with the tanking duo of Boat Builders and The Kids Can Eat a Bag of Dicks, the former from the headliners’ new album Partycrasher (No Idea, 2014), it’s clear we are all about to get hurt. The heat is incredible – sticky, aching heat through which A Wilhelm Scream have to carve rather than play. And how they play. Trevor Reilly and Mike Supina (the newest member of the band, having joined in 2008 after Chris Levesque, who captured some of the supreme work on Ruiner (Nitro, 2005), departed) swap frenetic glances, looks of delight, madness, endeavour, as they share orchestral fretwork and grinding palm muting, this kind of totalising guitar romance. A Dave Murray and Adrian Smith for punk rock.

Is this punk? Who knows. It’s fast. A 19-song set is kicked into the throat in just about 45 minutes. Their sound has all the jangling, gothic ephemera of Iron Maiden but all the snotty muscularity of Pennywise or Dead Kennedys. Their set is beguiling. They take liberal fistfuls of material from past albums, like The Soft Sell, I Wipe My Ass With Showbiz, 5 to 9 (the latter stitched together fiercely), with Partycrasher’s highlights like The Last Laugh and Born a Wise Man. It is uncompromisingly urgent.

Breaks are minuscule, to be taken only so as to take fluids and not die. And then it is on, forward, to something unreal. Brian Robinson is frightening all on his own, bass-playing of such a remarkable quality, so high a top drawer that most, including myself, just gaze at his fingering with eye seared open, almost forgetting to blink. (Speaking of fingering, overheard at the bar: “I saw Rage Against The Machine at Wembley Arena and I got fingered.”) Skid Rock displays all his powers, thundering along the fretboard, matched, pound for pound, by Nicholas Pasquale Angelini’s acerbic beats, his charging kick pedal. Nuno Pereira jumps buoyantly, grinning like an eight-year-old. Peak up, vest top, flinging himself like Pepe Reina, he looks thrilled to be fronting such a breathtaking unit, as we all are to be there witnessing it. But Pereira has chops of his own, growling like Chuck Ragan or Mike Ness, a quick-lipped Eddie Vedder. “Tie me up to the radiator! Trust the sweat, not the face it’s on!”

The technicality at this speed is simply something beyond what other punk bands can do. And it has long been known. A Wilhelm Scream, the band’s band. The band bands wanted to tour with, the one they listed as inspiration. But now, nearly ten years in, the Borderline caught the fusion of skill and deft songwriting that their recorded work had so often captured so sweetly: songs so catchy they seem to vacuum the air from the room. Come tomorrow night to Kingston, Pereira said, when it will really get “hot and nasty”. But this room is baking enough. Punters fly into each other, leap from the stage and hang upside down from the lighting rig. The King is Dead is followed by an encore of Hike and The Rip and we tread out, exhausted.

And so to words. They come easily to Pereira whose barked aggressions fire into the Charing Cross Road like rockets but, then, unfathomable flair comes easily to this band. It is left to the reviewer, when words consistently fail to do justice, to feel. And that feeling, that emotion when you watch a band so tight, so energetic, so mesmeric that you feel your eyes tingle and the back of your neck burn white with anticipation, with the sense that time might have just fallen off its track, that feeling when you see such a ferocious statement of authority, when a gulf in punk rock might just have been ripped open, when you encounter what might be the best hardcore band since Black Flag, that feeling – if we can find but one word – is awe.

★★★★★

Reviewed for Punktastic

Spare us the moral outrage of bigots, racists and animal-killers

© gsz
© gsz

The legitimacy of a not-even-six-month vegetarian questioning the ethics of meat-eaters, piling on them as animal-slaughterers, bastards and fiends is highly dubious. But let’s plough on.

Yesterday, an MP and secretary of Parliament’s animal welfare group joined John Blackwell, the president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, in calling for the end of the religious slaughter of animals for food. Andrew Rosindell said that Muslims and Jews kill more than half a million animals a week in ways that are inhumane, cutting their throats to satisfy the meaty whims of their respective deities.

“If you asked the average British citizen whether they agreed with this, they would say ‘No’. An animal has to be killed for food, but it needs to be done in a humane way,” Mr Rosindell said. “Why should we allow that kind of thing to go on in this country when it goes against everything that we really stand for as a people?”

Denmark recently banned the killing of animals by that method, citing inhumanity, thereby legalising bigotry and the exclusion of religious minorities, preventing thousands of people from access to the meat they want to eat according to their values. Those values are undoubtedly a right load of turnip, but the problem here is a logical one.

If you say you care about the treatment of animals, it is not a logical position to choose to eat meat. Meat comes to your mouth, in the overwhelming majority of cases, via a system of meat production that requires the animal to be killed. It is not possible to care about the welfare of animals and at the same time want them dead. It’s inconsistent.

A = I want to minimise the suffering of animals.
B = I want to eat animals which are killed and which suffer pain via meat production systems.

A and B are, quite simply, inconsistent statements. So the question remains as to the rationale for the ban on halal and kosher meat. Are we seriously making an ethical argument that takes this form: it’s OK to beat, under-feed, abuse, degrade, effectively imprison, stun, murder, slaughter, cut to pieces, trade and commodify an animal but not cut its throat because that is in some way crossing a moral line? Despite the pain the animal undoubtedly feels from the minute it is born to the minute it is gassed or (in the case of chickens) hung upside on a conveyor belt and dipped headfirst into a electric water bath, all of that is fine just so long as we stun it? Because what the Muslims and the Jews do is really barbaric. It’s a heavy slab of exceptionalism and sounds a lot like racism.

The animal has to be killed in x way, x then being considered barbaric by some people. Halal/kosher should be an option too, because it not being an option excludes Muslims and Jews from the practice of eating the food they wish to eat. At the same time, consumers should, to an extent, be able to have a say in how their food is prepared. But adherents of either option can’t make consistent arguments as to why the other may be more unfair. They are increasing the aggregate suffering of animals with negligible difference between them.

Not eating meat or meat products is, within the practice of food consumption, the logical conclusion of position A (above): I want to minimise the suffering of animals. You can call it religious privilege if you like – but really you’re criticising religions for doing something you pretty much do anyway. What’s the difference?

Of course both halal and kosher practice are mad superstitions and it is not really logical (meaning: ‘consistent’) to say that you object to one particular type of pain and suffering that probably isn’t any worse than another type which, as a meat consumer, you are happy to partake in. There is a good argument about the legitimisation of batshit crazy religious ritual in mass consumption, and it’s a better reason to reject halal/kosher chicken sandwiches. But, meat-eaters, the argument about harm to the animal is invalid for you.

Muslims and Jews would like to be able to eat meat that corresponds to the stipulations of their belief system (in public and in private). This necessarily or in some ways means that the non-religious may then consume ritual slaughter meat, but standard levels of meat production are equally or at least comparatively barbaric.

Why shouldn’t Muslims and Jews feel/be as equally entitled to eat meat as everybody else? If you want to eat meat but don’t want halal/kosher meat as a ‘preference’, then your preference is bullshit. It’s not a sound ethical argument to claim that one form of animal murder/captivity is more ‘good’ than another if you care so little about what is ‘good’ for the animal as to have it killed, eaten and held captive anyway. It’s absolutely worthwhile to criticise halal/kosher practices of animal slaughter – but why stop there? Keep going with that reasoning and you should find that it’s harder to justify eating animals at all.

Review: In-Finite Space at The Vaults Festival

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Are tweets spaces? Not many philosophers would want to answer that question. ‘Space’ is a term – like ‘narrative’ or ‘deconstruction’ – that while it has its role in thinking about humans, and has its philosophical antecedents, has now become impossibly ‘postmodern’ in the pejorative sense. To a philosopher it says imprecision, or worse: AHRC funding.

As for tweets, few philosophers have so far grappled with the questions of self in an age of digital self-division. It is often left to the arts to try and give meaning to human experience and so it is with the ostensibly non-digital realm of contemporary dance. IJAD, a London dance company, have continued their negotiations with social media (read: Twitter) in the third in a series of productions based loosely around temporality and space.

In-Finite Space, a project of choreographer Joumana Mourad, is notably concerned with transcending the gap between how the audience thinks about the work they are seeing, relating it to experiences of their own, and how, reflexively, the dancers can return interpretations of those experiences. The production, quite remarkably, relies on the tweets of its audience for its inspiration. It is brave art.

In this latest show at Waterloo’s magnificent Vaults, part of the Vaults Festival, the audience are asked to tweet their favourite space, that being in the perceived world, the digital world, the imaginary world, and so on. Many of these tweets are trite; answers like “Horizontal on cool grass” are clumsy but contribute to the problem with the production. (The worst tweet, which I saw from over a neighbour’s shoulder, was a space “on a train, travelling through a continent.”)

If the tweets here are to be honest accounts of one’s experiences, we ought to take into account, if we are to interpret them, the time-spaces in which these tweets are formed. The issue for IJAD is that a tweet occupies multiple digital and conceptual spaces owing to its availability to all people at all times. It takes on new meanings in new spaces. It has a history, a personality. I tweet about how I feel in the Vaults, but that makes little sense to my followers who aren’t all here with me, even though I’m using a hash tag to siphon off my tweets for this show. My knowledge of this – plus social embarrassment (and that not everybody uses Twitter to be honest) – might mean that I do not engage with the show as Mourad intends. Indeed, my embarrassment at being asked to think, an impolite request if there ever were one, meant that I shied behind tweets that were mostly self-aggrandising or merely took the piss. But the worry is that the production so rests on a dynamic that must be taken seriously. There is an irredeemable collapse between the audience and their honesty which renders the expression of their spatial relationships vague and unsatisfying. What isn’t explored is whether we need anonymity to feel the space we want in our multitudinously digital world. Why does Twitter only appear to have one dimension in a production, ironically, about time and space?

The phenomenal power of the movement (Alice Gaspari in particular involving herself in a nice nod to apples and Newtonian physics) is worshipful. The improvisation adopted to express the tweets is often extraordinary. But this second part of the performance is too short. I could gleefully have watched this for longer. Not much off of half an hour, it gets really exciting towards the end, which comes to soon, as all five performers move wonderfully in unison.

After the audience had been asked in the first part to explore the danced space with torches and tweets, this second part feels much more static. Spaces are demarcated between audience and performer. The tweets then function merely as source material. They could be read from a book. It matters not that the tweets are truthful or not, only that they are given in spaces that may require them to be truthful. Spaces house powers upon the tweeter and with IJAD, courageous though they are, this is lost. Tweets convey brief moments of agency but they are welded to the perceived recipient of the author and this production misses the vital component, therefore, of the digital self: dishonesty. Tweets are lies in space. And while this production rollicks with such a confident ingenuity, you can’t believe a word of it.

★★★☆☆

In-Finite Space runs until Saturday, March 8 at the Vaults Festival in London