Queueing at the cash machine next to Camden Town Tube Station, I couldn’t help but gawp at the very strange man nearby who was doing martial arts moves of a very acrobatic nature.
It wasn’t even a street art performance as he was plainly not looking for donations. In fact he was paying no attention at all to anyone nearby. This man had simply taken his tracksuit jacket off, placed it on the ground and then started doing all manner of roundhouse and turning kicks as passers-by swarmed past, apparently oblivious. Then, like that, he picked up his jacket again, put it back on and walked off like nothing had happened.
(Nunchuck Grandpa proving that old virals never die)
And that was before I went to a gig fuelled by what might best be termed dark psychedelia (or doom metal and its many sub-varieties). Conan were the main act that night, but before I settled into the murk of the Camden Underworld, with its many and various species of mutant fly buzzing lazily around the Hogarthian horror of the men’s bogs, I thought I should check out the other punters.
a very subtle but clear precision
Surprisingly, a lot of them were women, between a third and a half in fact, and it was the first time I saw a gender balance like that here since the late 90s, after which metal gigs across London went full-on sausage party and were dominated by hairy blokes pretending desperately not to be middle class.
What did doom have that was drawing them in, though? Was it more female friendly than I had first imagined? Or was it Conan? You’d be amazed how many ‘norms’ of either gender really like the band when I finally manage to force them to listen. It’s almost like they’re destined for bigger things….
But I digress. First up was doom quartet Torpor, who carried on the gender equality theme by having two female members, namely the bassist and vocalist. They also immediately stood out for being very, very good and suitably heavy, the brutal crunch of their set getting the crowd going despite being first on.
The band were certainly up for it, blasting out music from their instruments with desperate vigour while the lead singer even jumped off stage at one point to keep singing in the pit (‘No Stage Divers!!!’). It was an impressive set, and the music went well with one moment, when the contours of the singer’s skull were illuminated by piercing red light as it shone through her blonde hair. It was fittingly eerie.
I decided at this point to carry on with the good work of getting drunk, followed by a spell of splurge on the merch stands. I realised with some annoyance that I was going to miss a Trouble gig as someone handed me a flier advertising that very thing. There’s just not enough doom in Hampshire.
Next up were Ghold, or what seemed to be two blokes who were their road crew. One tuned the bass, the other tested the drums…. They looked like they’d just stepped from the crowd. Then, as the first number began, I realised they were the band, taking turns to provide the vocals and blasting out lead-heavy dissonance without mercy (none of that lead guitar bollocks, oh no…), and they were also very impressive. This was doom stripped to its bare minimum – heavy and compelling, consistent and defined by a primordial fury underpinned by a very subtle but clear precision. All in all a most welcome surprise. Who needs guitarists anyway?
As the set ended, the PA began playing Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ without a shred of irony. I continued to drink.
11Paranoias seemed just as promising. Was that a ring modulator the guitarist/vocalist was fiddling about with? Was that a blunt he was smoking? The answer to both was an assured YES. Sadly, that was as exciting as it got as what followed was rather formulaic and pedestrian, a lukewarm mix of extreme doom and space rock that was frankly a bit dull, squealing psychedelic guitars and some powerful drumming notwithstanding.
And now the last and main act. Also the onstage phantasmagoria of horror presented when one member of the band, who came out to help the roadies, bent over to fiddle with some cables and presented us all with his plumber’s crevice. Not unsurprisingly, I had another drink.
Anyway, there’s Conan and then there are black holes. One of those is heavier than the other one and it’s probably not the black hole. The band’s set was raw, primal and utterly devastating, but also an odd sort of paradox – you have these three hooded men onstage with no fanfare or props (or belts on their trousers) and nothing more, and yet it’s hard to contain how overwhelming and intense their music is, as they delivered note perfect renditions of their back catalogue while simultaneously doing the metaphorical equivalent of setting about the audience with a large hammer.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the intensity. I proceeded to give myself whiplash, only to look up at one point and realise a guest vocalist had taken over for a track only to disappear again the next time I looked. It was exhilarating stuff indeed. You don’t so much see the band as feel it.
Then they were gone. No encore, no farewell theatrics… They simply left the empty stage behind them, like it had been swept clear somehow. No one was disappointed of course, but it would have been nicer if there had been a larger turnout. Sadly, this was a Thursday night, but at least Conan made damn sure those who turned up never forgot the moment.
Alexander Hay is a writer and polemicist based online and in print.