By Simon Shoulders, Rock At Night London
Venue:The Hope & Ruin-Brighton, UK-February 15, 2020
It seems that each weekend brings another storm to the UK, and last weekend it was the turn of storm Dennis to deliver the UK with more than its fair share of ferocious wind and lashing rain. However, the inclement conditions didn’t stop a sell-out crowd venturing out to see Japanese Television with support from Melt Plastic Group and Psycho Relics at the Hope and Ruin in Brighton. JTV also had a little bonus surprise in store for the crowd in the form of fantastic live visuals by Innerstrings who also provided the lights and visuals at JTV’s recent appearance at the Lewes Psych Fest in January.
Innerstrings use projections that blend live feed visuals of the band with liquid op art where light is shone through coloured fluids being squidged around in phase with the performance. It makes for quite an unusual lighting desk! (Feel free to read in a little British understatement) In truth, it’s the first lighting desk I’ve seen which is part chemistry set, part birds nest of wires and cameras and wholly and properly mad professor bonkers! But, oh my goodness, it’s effective! All that electronic wizardry coupled with the organic aspects of the liquid op art creates a wonderfully atmospheric and bespoke effect that Innerstrings skilfully manipulate to compliment the music being played.
First up to be bathed in the psychedelic lighting were local five-piece, Psycho Relics. The lead guitarist’s hat and clothes give you a strong hint about their sound: Fuzzy garage rock with more than a hint of early Black Keys in the guitar work but with an insistent, locomotive pace and fantastic electric organ creating a full-bodied Doorsy Roadhouse sound perfect for those people that like to go down slow… (Much later on. After the rest of the show of course!)
Psycho Relics really put on a great show and, as I was shocked to learn after their set, this was their first gig making their performance even more spectacular. Definitely a band to tip hotly if you’re in to your hot tips!
Next to take to the stage were another Brighton band, Melt Plastic Group. The difference between Psycho Relics and Melt Plastic Group is stark with the latter’s dark, slow-building, reverb-drenched cosmic psych rock being almost the antithesis to the former’s more upbeat and energetic style.
Melt Plastic Group describe their music as “Panpsychist Folk”. Now I’ll be honest, that intrigued me and sent me off of a Google-sourced spiral of pseudo-research that significantly delayed the delivery of this article. It turns out that panpsychism is view that consciousness is fundamental and ubiquitous. That’s not to say that an electron whizzing around the d-shell of a single nucleus of Zinc could be slightly miffed that it was stuck whizzing around a nucleus of a Zinc atom rather than the svelte nucleus of a Copper atom to which it might aspire if only that flabby Zinc nucleus could loose a little atomic weight. Instead, the modern philosophical view of panpsychism, isn’t that our humble election has to have thoughts and feelings in order to be conscious but rather that to be conscious is simply to have subjective experience of some kind. Given this, Melt Plastic Groups music may be just the just the ticket to sit back and consider the fate of that electron and the ubiquity of consciousness.
However, as I stood left of stage in the Hope and Ruin soaking in the soaring reverb I was yet to encounter the plight of our plucky and somewhat ambitious electron, I was instead left dredging the memory banks for some sort of insight in to where I had seen Will, the frontman of Melt Plastic Group before… It turns out that JTV’s bassist, Alex, was in a band with Will called Sunlight Service Group and that I had seen and photographed them at a Custard Thruster all-dayer put on by Fluffer Records, a label run by Al, the now drummer for JTV, under a railway arch in Bow back in the summer of 2016. I remember that Will performed with a green t-shirt tied around his head. It’s the sort of sight that remains with you and is perhaps serves as a reminder of the constantly evolving cosmic oneness of the UK’s underground music scene…
The night’s headline act, and another musical contrast, were Japanese Television. They play instrumental cosmic surf-rock like you’ve never heard before. It’s futuristic cult soundtrack material with a beat that’s filthy enough to demand a good wiggle on the dance floor. Think Dick Dale and the Deltones fired in to the far future to write the soundtrack for Captain Kirk’s holiday surfing videos (William Shatner vintage of course!). Think of the effortless cool of Lalo Schifrin’s “Shifting Gears”, the soundtrack to the build up to the iconic car chase in Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, now think of Tarantino’s sci-fi remake. Japanese television would provide the perfect soundtrack…
Japanese Television’s performance is filled with energy and the crowd can’t help but bob along to the infectious beats and bass-lines. JTV doesn’t really have a frontman, although Ian, who was last to join the band and plays keys and electronic harp, is placed front and centre and is on duty to introduce the songs and other band members. Even though their music is filled with energy, JTV serve up something of an introverted performance where the band are clearly intensely focused on the music and their part in the sound. Interaction with the crowd is something that mostly happens between the songs. I’ve heard some people say that with a lack of vocals, JTV is missing something, but I disagree. In fact, I think the lack of vocals and front-person theatrics serves to focus the crowd on the music, and the music JTV serve up is very good indeed.
Japanese Television are a band I’ve seen evolve over time. JTV have recently stretched and squeezed the tempo of their set. “Bruno’s Nightmare” (the video for which is a directed by drummer Al and has been chosen as a finalist in the music video category at the Buenos Aires International Film Festival!), becomes a significantly darker, more dreamy beast for slowing the tempo, but “Tick-Tock” is an absolute banger played at pace that gets every one moving. The result is that JTV have created something that’s richly textured and very engaging, satisfying and meaty listen.
When the set was done the crowd called out for an encore and after a quick huddle, JTV responded with Ian stepping up to the single microphone on stage and asked the crowd: “Bloodworms. How fast do you want it?” the crowd’s immediate response was: “Faster! Faster!”. What followed was a fantastic double time rendition of “Bloodworms” that triggered a suitably sweaty and messy mosh to round a fantastic night off! (and yes, I was far too busy dancing to take any photos at this point!)
For me, the act of daring to write a review about a friend’s band brings a tiny frisson of danger. There’s always that niggling possibility of a minor conflict of interest because (and this is the controversial bit) sometimes I’m there to support my friends as they bravely get on stage to perform and enjoy their company after the show as much, and occasionally more, than I’m there to enjoy their music. Given this how can you, the reader, be sure that I’m providing you with an unbiased, impartial review?
Well, hopefully this will help. Here it is. Full disclosure.
I saw JTV’s first gig. I’ve known Al, JTV’s drummer, for ages having seen him be the death of multiple drum kits in Love Buzzard and having spent many hours photographing and being introduced to some fantastic new bands through his Fluffer Records pit parties and Custard Thruster all-dayers. I’ve actually travelled the UK to turn up at JTV gigs far from my usual base of operations here in London and that probably makes me better qualified to be a “Fan” of JTV than more or less another band I’ve seen live (apart from perhaps Queens of the Stone Age, but that’s a whole other story…)
But I’m also very lucky, I’m writing about Japanese Television. You don’t have to worry if I’ve talked the band up, or embellished my description of their show, because they really are incredibly good (feel free to read in a little more of that British understatement if you see fit…) If you still don’t trust me, well watch the videos in this article, buy their music, or even better get to one of their live shows and I’ll guarantee you’ll be shaking everything you’ve got to a high-speed rendition of “Bloodworms” come the end of the night…
Japanese Television’s Set List – Plus “Bloodworms” as their encore!