...a unity of eyes and firelight...

Dislocation Dance

In Live Reviews, Music on June 5, 2011 at 10:54 pm

This review was originally published by Now Then Magazine on Monday, 30 May 2011

Monday, 23 May 2011

St Clement’s Church, Chorlton, Manchester

I love pop music.  I have always loved pop music, even before I understood what it meant or where it came from.  When I was a teenager, I loved the dominant sound of the day – britpop.  The first album I ever bought was Moseley Shoals by Ocean Colour Scene.  I listened to The Longpigs, to Oasis, to Blur, (take a breath), to The Bluetones, Echobelly, Cast.  When I was a little bit older, I began to listen to their antecedents – Paul Weller, The Jam, The Beatles.  The fucking Beatles.  To make it to the Beatles, I had to battle through, past or around Space, Menswear and fucking Suede.  Well, it was worth it when I got there.

Unlike many people who are interested in pop music, the house in which I grew up was not particularly musical, or at least it was not soaked in the sounds of Western pop.  My parents listened to Bollywood playback singers, moreso in the car than in the house.  My father’s favourites were, and still are, people like Mohammed Rafi, while my mother preferred the female singers, such as Lata Mangeshkar.  So it was only much later on that I heard Ocean Rain by Echo and the Bunnymen, and began to trace historical influences less obvious than the simple Beatles – Smiths – Stone Roses – Oasis trajectory.

It was at that point that I began to get into post-punk, began to listen to the bands that had been emerging around the same time as Factory, either associated with it, influenced by it, or subsequently influencing it.  I was attracted to the darkness, the misery, the exposition of a beaten post-industrial landscape created by Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher.  Of course, this misery was often clothed in upbeat melodies, and many of the songs were love songs.  But they were not flippant, they did not ignore where they came from, they were mired in it.  There was no attempt to escape it, nor to festishise it through explicit reference.  It simply was.  You could hear it in the reverberations of the singing, in the strained guitars, in the muffled, not quite defeated, not quite defiant anger.  Songs like Hand in Glove by the Smiths and of course, Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division, are perfect examples.

I had never heard of Dislocation Dance before reading through the programme for the Chorlton Festival.  It bills them as experimental jazz punk, and describes them as having been initially signed on the same label as Buzzcocks, before signing for Rough Trade at the same time as The Smiths.  A bit of further research has informed me that they were friends with the Factory crowd.  They were once flown back from a tour of the USA by one Anthony H. Wilson, after a mishap with their original tickets left them stranded there.  This has all built up a picture of something really quite exciting.  So I’m excited.

I arrive in the hallway of St Clement’s Church, with the partition doors still closed while the band sets up.  We can hear them sound checking, and they sound a little more conventional than I had imagined, a little more bubblegum.  But that’s OK.  It’s quite possible to be happy and heartfelt, or saccharine and ironic, or for the soundcheck songs not to be representative of the whole set.  There’s any number of explanations, so I don’t think too much about it.  I look around me and see a crowd that makes me quite happy to live in Manchester.  Not a group of hipsters eager to impress, but mostly people over the age of thirty.  I wonder if some of them remember the band from the 80s, or if some of them actually know or knew the band personally.  There are also a couple of children under the age of ten, whose parents I assume are here too.

So the doors open, and we file into the church.  St Clement’s is a beautiful building, dimly lit tonight to create a lovely warmth.  The band is set up in what I think is known as the chancel, in front of the altar.  The evening sun shines through a stained glass window above, showering them in shimmering blues and reds.  We sit in the crossing, surrounded by shadows.

Ian Runacres tells us they will start with softer tunes before getting on to the heavier stuff.  So they kick off, with Phil Lukes singing the first three songs, while also playing ukelele.  He has a deep, rich voice that fills the church and seems to work well in the absence of the bass guitar for these songs.  Jon Board plays trumpet and (I think) French horn to add some texture.  This is enjoyable pop, with a touch of the wistful, and reminds me of Teenage Fanclub.

For the next few songs, Ian Runacres takes over on vocals, and Lukes replaces his ukelele with a bass.  This creates a real change in the sound, as Runacres voice is higher-pitched and his range a little narrower.  The songs lose that wistful touch and seem to vacillate between self-indulgent and glib.  Some are both.  A song called Shinjuku Junction has the lyrics, ‘Shinjuku Junction/ East meets West/ We see the best of all around us/ The best meets the rest.’  I begin to see where certain aspects of britpop came from.  His voice is not unlike Ian Broudie’s and some of these tunes remind me of The Lightning Seeds.  I hate the Lightning Seeds.

I begin to contemplate what it is that I love in pop.  Whatever it is, this is not it.  When Lukes takes over singing again, I begin to wake up a little.  His voice has a greater resonance that seems to penetrate real feelings, whereas Runacres’ seems to bounce off them.  He introduces one song, ‘Like most of my songs, it’s about my misspent youth.’  Misspent how?  Why?  I don’t feel that this music is attempting to breech the superficiality of the imagined experiences of our youth.  And pop music can do that.  I know it can do that, I have seen it do that.  I came here tonight expecting to hear these guys do that.

Not all pop music analyses, not all pop music describes, not all pop music is about pain, or is qualified by pain.  But it does have to engage.  At least make me dance, make me tap my feet.  Tonight I’m not engaged, I’m floundering.  Runacres seems to be enjoying himself, which I’m heartened by.  But this seems to be a reminiscence of something for him and his band.  It sounds pleasant enough, but it is ultimately unedifying for those of us who do not share a history with him.  It is tame.  While Lukes seems to ‘mean it’ more, his ultimate lack of conviction is belied by his introduction to The Ruins of Manchester, ‘It’s not my fault, it’s just a song.’

This is not angry, nor is it impassioned.  It is certainly not experimental.  It is a kind of plodding pop that carries no meaning for me.  One review I found of their work in the 80s described it as ‘background music for the foreground.’

Pop music can do more than this.


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