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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Wolf Eyes Extravaganza (September 21-22, 2018, Café Oto, London)

Wolf Eyes (now and for many years consisting of Aaron Dilloway, Nate Young and John Olson) have sprung out of the dystopian American Midwest. Having absorbed all their metal, hardcore punk and free jazz influences, they channel them into something new, raw, and angry that we had to define it, only as a reduction, as noise. Letting the world know about their vision of a new music by millions of limiter run cassettes and cdr’s plus some vinyl, they managed to escape labels. By collaborating in the mid-00s with Anthony Braxton on the beautiful monster of an album called Black Vomit, they made it clear that genres were obsolete to them. By 2009’s Always Wrong their music could easily be described as modern blues, with cathartic lyrics about the gutter of our feelings taking a stand. Since then, they have been forging bonds with what we could call (my definition) the outer limits of free rock like in 2013’s No Answer-Lower Floors. As always playing live is a totally different beast, one that can easily devour a musician and sometimes the audience as well. This is pretty much the reason I was so eager to catch them live for the first time.

It’s been two years since I last visited the heavily gentrified area of Dalston and from now on I’m crossing my fingers that Oto will be able to hang in there. The prices around the area seem to be skyrocketing. Good old capitalism, I guess. The three day residency at Café Oto seemed like an extravaganza of like minded artists. I managed to catch the first two days. The second day, Saturday, was sold out but I guess that even on the day before the place was packed. And it was nice to see some weirdos (no, I do not mean myself) instead of the usually hip crowd of Oto.

The opening set of Vicky Langan and Aaron Dilloway did not deliver. Even though they both tried hard by switching knots and pushing contact microphones to their limits, like static, it lacked energy. The guys from the Wolf Eyes were up next for a small set, but they decided not to play safe (by just giving us a “casual” Eyes show), a decision that went for Saturday as well. So it was an expanded version of Wolf Eyes, the Universal Eyes (an offshoot of Wolf Eyes with members of the band Universal Indians), along with Gretchen Davidson. I strongly believe that this is the core of a live version: presenting a new image, an altered one, something different. Their sound was huge. Nate Young was a dominant figure with vocals coming out the belly of the beast while Olson's sax shrieked between notes and an amorphous maze of noise. Yes, yes, I know, free jazz. Aaron, always the quiet presence, along with Davidson, provided an elastic electro-acoustic mayhem. It was cathartic at times.

The Universal Eyes stayed on. They must have liked it as much as the audience. Now it was with the duo of Elvin Brandhi and Gwilly Edmondez, the Yeah You. Having never heard them before, I’m not sure I got the right idea (if there’s such a thing) of what they exactly do. But, certainly they blended and reacted with the quartet of Universal Eyes amazingly. This six piece performance was the highlight of the two days. Many times, it seems that collaborations tend to suck out each other’s energy. Quite the opposite that night. The visions of six people, two different groups of musicians came together to form a new kind of ecstasy, some kind of transcendence. A psychedelic jungle maybe. Their forty minute set seemed to last forever, constantly climaxing until the very last second. A wonderful chaos.

The second day started with a DJ-set by Vicky Langan, and I must admit that she performed much better through this than the day before. I really enjoyed the weirdness of her set and how it was constructed to prepare us for what was about to come. For some reason, though, her set lasted very long. When the guys from Triple Negative finally took the small stage on Oto, I realized that probably they were just late. There seemed to exist some tension between them and those situations, very often, produce fruitful results. Well, not this time. Their performance was a mix of rock poses on guitar, a wind instrument that was literally inaudible and some piano with lyrics that were taking off on their own. Believe me, I have nothing against cacophony (quite the contrary) but this was not working and, disappointingly, there was little unity and collectiveness between them and the audience. Pretty disappointing.

The Universal Eyes returned for the last performance of the day. Saturday was the day of more rhythm and less noise. Young started off with some poetry, as he pointed out. I had the image that it was part two, like side b of the same record. Having heard side a just yesterday. It was less fun, more serious, more like an angry choice of words and sound. I would say that the term modern blues is more suitable for that performance. The pulsating, rhythmic monster of their sound was gradually hovering, going up and down in terms of volume, becoming a solid entity at the end. There was no catharsis on the second day but more movement of the bodies.