I’ve heard it said (and occasionally by myself) that music tribes are no more.
Walking around the Southbank complex in advance of my third Meltdown gig, that theory was disavowed. The place was teeming with Nine Inch Nails fans, almost universally dressed head to toe in black. We’d tried and failed to get tickets so nipped across from the Royal Festival Hall to the newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall.
The remodelling has been subtle. The foyer appears to have been the main beneficiary with better drinking and eating spaces. The cloakroom has been moved downstairs. The auditorium itself seems very similar to its former state, which I’m delighted by as it is great sounding and intimate but comfortable environment.
Seeing the NIN and Mono fans mingling with the Friday night city drinkers and the tourists enjoying a gorgeous June evening added a sense of the surreal. For me though, this shows London at its best, providing something for everyone in a beautiful location next to the Thames.
I’d not seen Mono before and whilst I had enjoyed their albums each time I dipped in, it would be stretching it say I was a die-hard fan. Their music works well for me in the background which may sound slightly odd given this is amped up post-rock, in a similar vein to Mogwai or God Speed! You Black Emperor. The chance to enjoy them in such a refined setting wasn’t to be missed.
The band lined up on stage with both guitarists, Takaakira “Taka” Goto and Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu seated on either side of bass/keyboard player Tamaki Kunishi. The two guys were dressed in dark skinny clothes with swathes of long hair, the epitome of Japanese rock’n’roll cool (bringing to mind the guy who wrapped our cooking knives for us in Osaka). Tamaki was wearing what a five-year-old child would probably describe as a princess dress, which combined with her rock-solid bass playing to quite disarming effect.
The band’s music is mostly instrumental with Tamaki adding vocals on a couple of songs. Their work is pretty binary. If you like that whole loud beautiful guitar rock that sounds like heavens opening or continents drifting then they are for you. The volume is overwhelming at times. How you cope with this sits somewhere between the physical and spiritual. It isn’t atonal so I find the music emotionally uplifting whilst the sheer loudness causes particles to vibrate. Close your eyes and drift away.
Looking at the setlist, it is clear that they were trying out their new album that is being released in the Autumn, combined with another European tour. Like their fellow Japanese noise/beauty artists Boris, the whole package is what my teenage daughter would describe as “aesthetic”.
The gig finished amid a squall of feedback reducing to absolute silence.
Mono have an identifiable sound and are very much a binary experience – you love it or hate it. I was in the latter category.
A quick word on support artist, Jo Quail. A solo cellist using an electric instrument which was processed via a multitude of effects pedals, she clearly enjoyed the performance. She played passionately with plenty of high drama. If you enjoy the Warren Ellis/Dirty Three style of instrumental string driven music, then it may well be worth checking her out.