Teenagers. A persistent worry aren’t they? Hanging about down by the canal, chucking shopping trolleys into the oily murk and so on. Tonight’s headliners Hey Colossus are now fifteen and their hosts, the good people of Supersonic, have just made the first announcements for next year’s fifteenth festival. In celebration, and with a nod to the season, they’re putting on this Christmas-ish affair whose flyers feature Krampus capturing a defenceless sausage dog. Probably going to drown it in the canal to scare them kids ‘cos he’s a proper wrong ‘un that Krampus.
Due to the hectic persistence of life and my own shambolic idiocy I miss most of local guitar, synth, drums trio Matters, which is a shame. They make widescreen instrumental music, the sort of thing you might call post rock but probably shouldn’t because it gives the wrong impression these days. It’s not a million miles from a band like Warm Digits in a more pastoral mood. What I caught was great but all too brief. Downstairs the Ideas Of Noise people are mounting an assault on structure – the early skirmishes in a night-long battle between the performers at one end of the room and the chattering hubbub of the bar at the other. At this stage they’re only two men strong, the upright bass and sax suggest it might be jazz that’s happening over there. Whether it is jazz or not is a question we’ll return to as the night progresses. Whatever they’re playing is fractured to the point of incidental abstraction, like the soundtrack to a surreal east European animation. Sadly, no such visual aid is available and the projection behind them features a kind of hotdog light beam that I’m finding quite disconcerting.
Upstairs more jazz is already in progress. Yama Warashi are playing some idiosyncratic fusion business. They have songs about mushrooms and, even if they weren’t wearing patterned dressing gowns over their clothes, they’re definitely the curveball on tonight’s bill. It’s not jazz at all, despite having a sax player in a red beret. He’s pretty good to be fair; usually I’d look at a situation like this and mark him for the prime candidate to squawk loudly and obnoxiously over everybody else, but he doesn’t do that at all. His contributions are calming and melodic, it’s the bass player who seems to be making up for a lack of strings with a few extra notes. Dancing at the front is the one person to have embraced, or even acknowledged, the season by wearing tinsel around his head and waist. He even manages a brief spot of break dancing for ‘Parallelogram’ which twists unexpectedly into a squall of noise before settling back down. They don’t quite get into the groove they’re looking for; there’s a tension that makes it feel stiff where the music wants to relax. Back downstairs, the ensemble is expanding and they’re turning up the volume to combat the growing crowd with a roaring drone.
Youth Man play bathed in red light, like we’re in a dark room. It looks great but I’m not sure I can hear the guitar. Oh, there it is, turn it up a bit yeah? They’re talking nonsense between songs as usual; Kaila says they played their first gig in a while the other night and this one is already better. We’re only three slightly shaky numbers in at that point, so God knows how that previous gig went. They hit their stride soon enough though and the rest of the set is great. A fierce ‘Valley Girl’, recently gifted a moderately controversial video, bites and kicks and rages like you want it to. One of the things that’s so likeable about Youth Man is that, although they’re basically a hardcore band, they could mischievously deny ever having heard any of it and you might even believe them. Cheeky buggers. Were I still a troublesome teenager myself I would love a local band like this, and the absence of a youthful smudge of devoted fans down the front seems like some sort of cosmic error. Perhaps they’re elsewhere filming each other getting injured doing something stupid. They end with ‘I Don’t Know’; still sounds like Elastica; still sounds good.
In a concession to the alleged Christmas nature of proceedings our hosts announce the raffle winners before the headliners; there’s a special mention for Mr Tinsel to much cheering. It’s been over a year since Hey Colossus played in Birmingham; they’ve marked turning fifteen with a live album rather than any new material, and it’s been long enough for memories of how good they are to fade just a little. They soon remind us, opening with the prowl and lurch of ‘Honest To God’ they move quickly up through the gears. About midway into ‘Back In The Room’ they fully take flight, a massive, shaking whirl of sound that surrounds and lifts you rather than simply flattens you with volume. Hey Colossus have built their own remarkable sound from familiar elements while keeping worn out genre-markers at arms length. They’re sort of psych, doom, noise, punk, kraut without really being any of them, only traces remain. They’ve also suffered a bout of new guitarists this year, losing the Henry Blacker brothers to the West Country, hopefully not to a gruesome farming incident. New boys Will (Pohl) and Chris (Grey Hairs) huddle together stage right; they’re doing fine. How they still achieve this devastating interlocking of three guitars now the band is spread even further around the country is amazing; it occurs to me Bob might be employing some kind of mind control. Of course, it helps that they’re powered by a fierce rhythm section making them the most irresistibly danceable noise rock band I can think of, drawing out the glorious motorik groove at the end of ‘Black and Gold’ as the crowd leap joyously around. There’s some new stuff in there tonight, including a focussed and melodic feedback drone which lasts for three? five? how many minutes is this? before dropping directly back into the song. All too soon they roar to a close with a thundering, mighty version of ‘Hey, Dead Eyes, Up!’ leaving me grinning and astonished. It might well be the best gig I’ve seen all year, and I saw Workin’ Man Noise Unit last month. To still be one of our most vital and thrilling bands fifteen years in is quite an achievement. Long may they continue.