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Transformer Part One

Every time you see Swans, it’s a pretty much life-changing show. Volume collides with the most intense songwriting to create a sound, especially live sound, that toys with the audience. It’s uncomfortably loud at times, the sharpest notes piercing whilst the lower tones are always present. In many ways, that’s exactly what makes it so loud – this consistency of sound, in which a barrage is produced, attacking the audience wholly and destroying anything in the way of non-interaction or apathy towards the gig. They have always been, and probably always will be, the ultimate must-see live band, but although their name carries weight in certain circles, theirs is still a cult following given their walls are hardly built of comfortable, three-minute radio listens.

Somehow they’re one of a few bands that have this brilliant intensity whilst on stage without any member really moving at all. Only Michael Gira – guitarist, vocalist, founding and only constant member of the band – really moves. He controls and composes the band with his arms or dramatic kicks to bring forward the louder sections. Unfortunately, this looks set to be one of the last gigs from the current incarnation of Swans. After a series of three farewell gigs in New York, who knows where Gira will take it next.

Suuns headlined the second stage at the back and brought their quasi-ambient psychedelic sound with them, slightly upbeat and driven. Guitar riffs melt into dance hooks, creating a sound which is mesmerising, but also leaves space for it to be lyrical – not in the sense of lyricisms full of wording, but full of a playful use of language and vocal sound to create yet another texture. That’s exactly what Suuns’ sound is about, the creation of these layers which pull you deeper into the tracks, fully immersive within the space that has been created.

Sex Swing are a band known for their intensity, creating blocks of sound that are pushed towards the audience in a remarkably heavy but measured way of writing. Rhythmic and almost trance-like, their music spans the electronic and the heavy, flitting effortlessly between the two with seldom seen skill. It’s lovely to see a new band able to do this so well, given it’s usually the realm of well-established bands which have refined their sound.

I’ve wanted to see The Fall for years, but missed every opportunity. They’re another of those must-see bands, no longer at their peak – although for The Fall this is a more debated point than others – but they’re someone to say you’ve seen. They’re on a checklist of the greats still touring, to see before they stop.

The phrase ‘We were early and we were late’ applies impeccably to their performance. They weren’t the heart-breaking disappointment that they could have been, but they weren’t a band at their absolute peak either, albeit they’re much more solid now than they’ve ever been. They were completely entertaining throughout the entire set – or at least frontman Mark E Smith was, supplying his usual habit of playing with amp volumes and moving microphones, even at one point throwing his wireless microphone out into the crowd, presumably never to be seen again. Though they may have been a little stable and workmanlike, it was still a very solid performance. Although I didn’t recognise a single track – it’s taken me far too long to listen to their most recent work – it still felt like there was something there, especially given the lack of bored moments.

The inaugural Transformer showcase has somehow pulled some of the most important bands together to create an incredibly unique line-up with not only some of the best out there, but more specifically the best in cult and alternative line-ups. Whilst the likes of Field Day may offer something similar, they rely somewhat on curational trends. Transformer manages to resist that, so far building events based on bringing the absolute best, which looks set to continue with the announcement that Godspeed You! Black Emperor will headline Transformer 2 on 28 October.

Transformer 1 took place on 28 May 2017 at Victoria Warehouse.

Next article in issue 43

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