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MONKEY MAGIC
:: Monkeys In Love :: Shirokuma :: David Gaffney featuring Sarah Clare Conlon ::
17 February 2012 / TV21 (Northern Quarter) / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine

I love it when you walk in somewhere and just have a total "What the fuck?" moment. There is a large projection of the cooling towers of North Yorkshire's enormous Eggborough Power Station in the background, and a woman reciting a spoken word piece about said towers. And how estate agents would have an easier time marketing properties in the area if the cylinders were erased from the house pictures and replaced with rainbows and unicorns (visual demonstrations are of course included) while a bloke provides a squidgy plonky organ backdrop which is the icing on this quite brilliant cake. They have another one that involves "Shoreditch media spods in sarcastically tilted flat caps" going for an ironic stag party in Pontefract, which is would be an inherently funny concept even if the poem wasn't, though it is.

We're in TV21's not especially secret Secret Basement, and the last time I saw a band down here was a mind-wobbling perfromance by Japanese psych-rock nutters Bo Ningen at In The City in 2009; tonight looks like it could be every bit as deranged. I have been summoned here by Monkeys In Love who first appeared on these pages in 2006 ("a woman dressed in full huntsman’s outfit, complete with carefully drawn twirling moustache, shouting nonsense over a frenzied electrobeat. “Robert Palmer...he died for you!” shouts her male companion"); popped up again in 2008 (where they "golden-shower us with a plastic willy on a stick with some glittery gold tinsel attached to it") and then nothing... until now. They've made an album, this is their album launch and frankly anything could happen. The opening duo, by the way, were David Gaffney featuring Sarah Clare Conlon and we're led to believe this is one of their first public performances in this form. Brilliant.

Next up is Shirokuma, who isn't Japanese but is... what? According to the notoriously unreliable Wikipedia he also records as Strip Prairie, Pope Innocent X, Tulip Crash, Chalice, Penguin Map Mijinko, Beat Safari and Panel Beater - possibly not all real, but that's one hell of a glorious collection of names so we're hoping some of them are. Lyrically he's like the missing link between Scroobius Pip and Half Man Half Biscuit, musing for instance on the difficulty of walking down a crowded Oxford Road, while his backing tracks take in everything from bleepy videogame-inspired electro to 80s powerpop cheese - presented alongside bizarre visuals including a cut-up of the Police Squad titles. There are a number of close-up encounters for those standing closest to the stage. A true one-off, a little dig through the MM archive reveals he's been at it for years, which makes me simultaneously annoyed this is our first encounter (he's even played at events I've been at yet have somehow managed to miss his sets) and impressed by his dedication to the cause of making music that doesn't give a fuck about what's cool this week/month/year.

Bloody hell, there's loads of them! Seems Monkeys In Love are a five piece band these days with founding members Steve Luddington and Laura Simms joined by a couple of guitarists and a bassist - and far from the sort of performance-art project with musical sideline implied by those earlier quotations, they have an infectious line in pulsating lo-fi electropop of which their self-description as a drunk Stereolab is actually not inaccurate.



Their first song is called Alan, and involves a load of call-and-response ("What's my name?" "IT'S ALAN!") you can't help joining in with; their next song is called "Judy" and sounds like psychedelic electro-glam, and they're one of the most fun bands to watch I've seen in a while. There's a lot to be said for music that doesn't take itself one hundred per cent seriously but still sounds good, and it's a lot harder trick to pull off (see: innumerable "wacky" student bands - or rather don't) than you'd think. Laura is excellent, engaging the crowd constantly and shrugging off occasional malfunctions of the projector as she sings about things like shopping and gin in a can. I'n a big fan of said convenience-delicacy myself as it happens, especially useful on long train journeys; I know where they're coming from. The party is drawing to a close with a great tune called "Wave Of Doom" which is the sort of bluesy space-drone with a side order of surf that isn't a million miles away from some sounds which are actually quite fashionable at the moment, although I'm pretty sure these people were doing it long before that, and then Laura's pulling something out of a bin bag on the floor...



....yes, it's a big kitten face with glowstick whiskers! Two hours ago this would have definitely been a "what the fuck?" moment, and now it just seems to make perfect sense....

Back in the middle of the last decade there used to be, well, if not loads then at least a regular showing for this kind of stuff in Manchester - aside from those involved with this evening's line-up there was Auto Test Pilot ("a club night as an artwork" which featured a man who performed in wooden Y-fronts), the rather disturbing Lord Mongo, some of the wilder FictionNonFiction sessions (the greatest clubnight ever? Possibly...). Stuff that blurred the boundaries between music, performance art and surrealist lunacy - and usually featured home-made cardboard props. I'm glad it's still here, lurking in the basement of a Northern Quarter bar now filled with a Friday night's worth of people largely oblivious to the city's numerous undergrounds.


Resources:
Monkeys In Love
Shirokuma

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