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HAVE YOU SEEN A WHITE RABBIT?
:: To Rococo Rot :: Luma Lane :: Twisted Nerve White Rabbit ::
01 July 2002 / Night & Day / Manchester
By Tom Kirk

01/07/02

Monday the rain washes nothing, just pickles the city with fat, rancid flecks. At doors the venue is already warm with must; hot and stale vapour perspiring from its patrons' sodden clothing, curling round our faces, blushing our cheeks. Twisted Nerve then grace us with criminal disorganisation. For the next two hours, there's not a shuffle of life from the stage, barely a single inflated poseur to laugh at in the meantime. A circulating nobody sticks pictures of the label's totemic white rabbit to the wall. People to the left are talking in German. It's the first of July, but the gods have already pissed on summer with characteristic perversion, and it reeks with the crippled wane of autumn instead. Still nothing happens, bar the rising steam and the lethargy burning our faces. I become intent on every detail of this slow strangulation in an effort to stay awake - the close hum of voices, the Germans to my left trying to remember how to toast in Russian, the lazy coils expiring from a nearby cigarette, the taste of yeast at the back of my mouth, the rabid head that I am smoothing from my Budvar and pressing to my lips...

No credit to Votel and co., but it's somehow worth the wait.

The critically acclaimed, German post-rock trio To Rococo Rot finally take the stage at about eleven. Luma Lane has already given brief respite by then; hair clamped in bunches, her not unattractive playground lullaby vocal stripped from the finer points of the 4AD back catalogue. Her melodies quirk with the same lack of convention as Belly's Star, but have an Anglicised inflection. So these are odd, sleepy verses that invariably try to boil up into lush, stormy climaxes. The formula is overlong and oversweet, the songs want to be lavish at the death but sound underembellished instead. A dose of spite would definitely be a healthy shot in the arm. Lane herself exaggerates the look, with so many kooky bats of her eyelids at times we're but steps from the dreaded realms of body glitter, feather boas and ironic kitsch. But the closing tracks are straighter-edged guitar pop, adding gloss and shine to the drowsy, stylised fermentation that went before. More of the same would be good. The airlessness is closing in on everyone. Looking across it is like dragging eyes through heavy time. Of such a climate of drab, English oppression the careers of men such as Morrissey have been made.

The finest thing about To Rococo Rot tonight is that they strike that stone dead. The foundations of this are explicitly technical - fluttering, minimalist echoes that gradually tunnel upwards, kaleidoscopic pulses that are never anything less than sharply precise. The music even in these structured beats, and in the equally meticulous scaffolding of Stefan Schneider's bass, is half of what swings it. There are symphonies in the effect-heavy percussion of Ronald Lippok alone; sometimes billowing and pounding, other times dank, glistening droplets, occasionally stretching the breadth of amplification in between. The tonality is also textured with an attention to resonance that hints at Ui or Boards Of Canada, so that the room shudders at designated moments with Schneider's basslines and Robert Lippok's samples and electronica. Run together it teems with the business of construction and architectural exactitude, dislodges us from the evening's settling dust, puts us at the apex of a metropolis in motion.

And then they ram it home with half-melodies of brilliant unpredictability. If the fibres of this are carefully, symmetrically crafted, the overlying sequencing and instrumentals of Lippok and Schneider humanise it, splashing the systematisation with distance and longing, infusing it with life, uprooting us from the greyness of tonight and carrying us far, far away. Against the claustrophobia of the Night And Day this is music full of the cities of Europe, rooted in their concrete grandeur by metronomic beats and timing, but thriving with the diversity of life and ideas that define them. Through the concussion of beats hammering the ground beneath our feet it walks the streets of Berlin, Prague, Warsaw and Vienna, yet somehow understands their vastness as if it's simultaneously looking down on their entirety. It flickers with the red and white stripes that curl around their arteries, but it's cold with the peaceful emptiness of the sky that hangs above them. It's dense and intricate, and the intricacy of this sound - even at its most sparse and minimalistic - feels like a soundtrack to every spire and tower block, every statue and dripping basement, Poznan, Breslau, Bratislava, Cologne.

Tonight the Night & Day should have been nothing more than leaden and grey, dying its slow death in time with the stillbirth of summer. Instead, against this music it somehow understands itself. Everything comes together - the blurring faces, the murmurring voices, the Germans talking to my left, the pictures on the wall, the burn-marked crumpled vinyl ashtrays, the smell of the damp rising from hats and coats about me, the taste of yeast at the back of my mouth, the fly that's drowning at the bottom of my bottle of Budvar - all of them seem to operate with the timing and unison of a single heartbeat, the catch, the possession, the essence of the music, a collective idea still waiting to happen, as close to these distant places as it is to the slick black silence that seeps through Oldham Street outside, concerted but still not quite yet born, osmotic, total, rounded and absolute.

Trust me.

It all makes perfect sense.


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