Review of Vile Imbeciles at The Hydrant, Brighton, 19/11/2011
Someone once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. If that’s the case, attempting to describe the music of Vile Imbeciles must be likened to the girl dancing herself to death in the bleak finale of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring – in a version of the ballet staged in the post-apocalyptic remnants of one of Frank Gehry’s stranger creations. If only there were such a venue, Vile Imbeciles would surely be its house band.
Unfortunately, Brighton’s Hydrant (once the Hare and Hounds) is not so stylish; a few licks of paint and a new name have not quite shaken off the pub’s reputation as a hot-bed of crust. The downstairs bar in which the bands play is as likely to contain young music fans as it is the older, sadder, more inebriated denizens of the Brighton night. It reeks of the ’90s, TV screens squeezing out videos of Rage Against The Machine, the P.A. pumping REM. But that’s ok: in Cameron’s Britain even the grimy, lacklustre, more parochial end of the ’90s has its nostalgic charm. If only the price of booze was similarly regressive. Sigh… But the music cuts through all this.
The band starts up: the drummer flings shards of shattered beats into the corners of the room; dissonant arpeggios wriggle from noisy guitars; a synth wails, while the four-string throbs with sinister purpose. Slaves of some alien physics, the beats and notes align around a twisted, insistent symmetry – and above all this five voices float and growl, quintuple ghosts of Don Van Vliet in thrall to Al Green. Unhinged, seemingly chaotic, the shifting dynamics of the VI sound is far from imbecilic.
The circumvention of cliché seems to be one of the Vile Imbeciles’ primary aims, part of an intellectual level which the primal urgency of their performance belies. This is exactly what makes them so special. The writing process must involve many hours of sitting around in chilly bedrooms and basement studios, auditioning riffs and rhythms, welding harmonies with a laser precision refracted through the prism of experience. Yet when VI take to the stage all pretensions evaporate, giving way to an infectious blast of concupiscent enthusiasm for their tunes. “How do they do it?” I ask a friend. “Practice,” he replies.
Feet stuffed into pointed black shoes slide around the stage, balance barely maintained, while guitars dangle, swinging dangerously, imperilling musicians and instruments alike. Tight black jeans and precision hairstyles clash with Hawaiian shirts and stacked blond curls in a stylish tsunami of sartorial rage. The two front-men down guitars for one tune, taking mics and lives in hand as they throw themselves around the small stage, growling and screaming in equal measures – while the three remaining instrumentalists break into intense, disjointed thrash. To quote a scary fox: “Chaos reigns!”
Watching them play, it’s obvious that their volatile, sometimes disquieting recklessness is not an act – yet on reflection, this pell-mell performance is perhaps just another expression of the warped logic which makes Vile Imbeciles’ music so wonderfully disorienting. What appears chaotic to their audience is the end product of an obsessive, artistic train of thought, executed with perfection by five serious musicians in love with what they do.