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GOT WOOD?
:: Dead Rat Orchestra :: Old House Playground ::
17 July 2012 / Night & Day / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine

You may - or may not - have noticed that there's a quiet revolution going on at Night & Day. Once the go-to place for breakthrough bands, local and touring alike, recent years have seen the likes of Deaf Institute, Sound Control and Soup Kitchen snaffle up those prizes leaving the Northern Quarter pioneers more reliant on the "bring your mates" market. Over the past year, however, there's been an increasing level of what could loosely be termed post-rock and avant-garde stuff appearing on the blackboard; this is the work of one Nick Mitchell, the man behind the wondrous Golden Lab Records, home of all things weird and wonderful for a good few years now. And indeed responsible for what's still probably one of the greatest Sounds From The Other City achievements ever, that being to programme an entire day's worth of visceral noise and free jazz including That Fucking Tank and Solar Fire Trio in the very much pre-gentrified Salford Arms back in 2007. The achievement was possibly getting out of there alive...

More to the point, he's a man whose judgement can be trusted - I'll be the first to admit I had never heard of Dead Rat Orchestra before the event invite popped up. It's not a name you'd forget, is it? Support band, Old House Playground, are even more of an unknown quantity despite being locally based and, it transpires, a great find. Nominally a duo (though there's a third man on the stage) they've got the deep, gravelly lo-fi blues with a bit of old-time swing and rockabilly on the side - imagine a pared down Bedlam Six fronted by a young hybrid of Jack White and Nick Cave. His lyrics are dark, twisted stories with a certain literary flair - and all the more impressively so when he speaks between songs and it becomes clear that he is not in fact English. Later research reveals that he (Tryfon Lazos) and drummer Andreas Venetantes arrived here from Greece after a long trek across Europe like proper old-school travelling musicians, doubtless picking up a few stories along the way: catch them at Fuel in Withington next Friday (27th).

So, Dead Rat Orchestra - where to even start? Seems the mostly Essex-based trio have previously collaborated with such names as Godspeed You Black Emperor, Marc Almond and Trembling Bells as well as composed the original music score to a BBC Documentary called "The Guga Hunters of Ness", which is quite a CV to start with. And from the off - whereby they parade around between the tables, banging large drums and chanting - there's the wonderful feeling that this could go in pretty much any direction ever. When they finally reach the stage they switch to delicate cello-led post-folk; almost ambient in places and full of the spirit of the wild outdoors. Which is presumably where they got their next instrument...



I've been going to gigs for longer than some of my friends have been alive and what happens next is a reminder that you should never, ever assume that you've seen it all. A sizeable chunk of tree trunk is thrown onto the floor in front of the stage and next thing we know the trio are laying into it with an axe or two. The chops become the rhythm for a haunting, ancient sounding piece of (otherwise) unaccompanied folk, a dark tale of infidelity and being left with a baby that's "not of my own", and by the end there are woodchips everywhere. Wonder if they source their logs locally or bring them on tour with them? Back on stage, there are a few pieces from the soundtrack whose icy drones and windswept melodies paint the Western Isles so vivdly you don't even need to see the film (though I very much want to, now). Then they leave as they arrived, barefoot now but still beating their drums.



A truly inspiring performance, it's a shame there were not more people in (and indeed that some of those who were opted to hold audible conversations across the quieter parts: we won't bother doing that rant again but seriously, either go to the back or shut up) but it does take time to reposition a venue and you have to start somewhere. There's some wonderful stuff coming up here in the near future: Ensemble Economique (described by Tiny Mix Tapes as "slow, gyrating, surging digi-beats; layers of click track; loops/synth; a forward-thinking, space-age feel" alongside Vibracathedral Orchestra's Michael Flower and Neil Campbell on 2nd August; the raw American folk of Frank Fairfield on 29th August and French psychedelia from the Holy Mountain stable (also home to Wooden Shjips) in the form of High Wolf on 4th September to name but a few. We recommend keeping an eye on the listings, anyway, and going down to check some of them out.


Resources:
Dead Rat Orchestra
Old House Playground
Night & Day

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