Terminal Gods/Department S/The Chameleons Vox, The Garage, 15th May 2014
What is (a) goth? Is it an eye liner wearing, patchouli dousing, fantasy role-playing, snakebite-drinking loner? All lazy shorthand signifiers applied thoughtlessly usually by those who haven’t even deigned to explore. An unfairly maligned and derided sound and style yet for all the mockery it’s a lasting reminder of the tribalism and loyalty that was once the bedrock of music; black attire, attitude and unwavering loyalty to the bands.
Goth as a genre, concept, sound or style can be traced back to post-punk. For some its sonic and visual roots lie in Siouxsie Sioux and later luminaries such as The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus. These are the totems of originality, innovation, singularity and perennially influential.
Forming in 2011 Terminal Gods line up like the four horsemen of the apocalypse with a drum machine keeping the beat, leading the way. To look at they are an incongruous bunch; the defiantly un-gothy singer an amalgamation of Morrissey, a correctly medicated and under control Ian Curtis and Bauhaus’s Peter Murphy. Aesthetically the band is a composite of then, when and now with singer Cowlin whey, fey, guttural and posey, he prowls the stage if seemingly nervy. You want him to let rip, to break out, just be; he needs to channel his inner-Eldritch and show no mercy (groan).
To date they have released an EP (Machine Beat Blues) and two 7” singles.
A sizeable crowd is greeted with ‘Intro’ which does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s the sound of Duane Eddy’s ‘Peter Gunn’ filtering through an abbey’s belfry; the scene and mood are set. ‘Machine Beat Blues’ is all Ron Asheton noise and swirl which is followed by a stomping version of the Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light White Heat (it is in fact closer to Mick Ronson’s glammy version from 1975).
In what could be construed as an in-joke they break into ‘ Snakebite Smile’ clanging guitars accompanied by lyrics that also feature another goth trope ‘… reptile shoes’. ‘Cold life’ sounds like The Horrors albeit less a mass of record collection pilfering. With pounding drums reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Houses of the Holy’ it’s a poppier sound.
The closing Electric Eyes is the most Sisters-like of the lot, a furious meld of Body Electric/Alice/First and Last and Always.
If there is one criticism then it is that they need to put their own stamp on proceeding; more of their identity and less identikit. However, this is an impressive showing by a band with something to say.
Department S at first appear an odd fit between Terminal Gods and The Chameleons however once they started you could chart a line between them all. Neither punk nor postpunk they mix angular guitars with a power-pop sensibility. Reforming in 2007 after 26 years, sadly without the (late) gloriously named and stylish showman, Vaughn Toulouse, they are lived in, have lived it, but, time has not withered them. Former keyboard player Eddie Roxy is on vocals; his is a laconic almost disinterested style.
Going Left Right is a beat-driven, aggressive song with brilliant psychedelic guitar and trance-like synthesisers whereas 2009’s Wonderful day’ starts like Young Knives’ ‘She’s attracted to’ before descending into a catchy 60s-esque pop song.
1980’s outstanding debut ‘Is Vic there?’ – their only Top 40 hit – never fails to astound. An iconic and menacing riff that swoops and soars, flows and falls; it is timeless. Seven lines repeated over and over; it’s hypnotic.
It’s been a customary facet of the ‘retromaniac’ times we live in for bands to play seminal albums in their entirety. The mercurial Mark Burgess refashioned the Manchester band as The Chameleons Vox following a final acrimonious split in 2003 and tonight they play their 1983 LP ‘Script from the Bridge’. Twelve songs that flow seamlessly into one another, the distinctive 80s production crisp and sounding both of its time and contemporary; once novel and pioneering this is now the default setting for ‘indie’ types. Their influence is as clear as day in the manufactured, context-free glum-rock of Editors and White Lies. Again, The Horrors’ recent releases have mined this sound and mood. This is proto-indie, pre-commercialisation and mass appropriation.
The ominous chimes of ‘Don’t Fall’ kick off proceedings, an ode to a night on magic mushrooms, the sounds is controlled chaos with lyrics of perception-bending events; ‘the place to be exists only in your head’
The lovely ‘Second Skin’ with its aching refrain of ‘I dedicate this melody to you … is this the stuff dreams are made of’ leads to ‘Less than human’ a tale of unrequited love, unexpressed desire from afar. ‘I must have died a thousand times, feeling less than human I surmise, less than human in God’s eyes’. Monkeyland is inspired by occult author Colin Wilson’s ‘triviality of everydayness’; the quotidian feelings of suffocation and the banality of a dead-end existence.
‘Thursday’s Child’ displays choppy guitars with deft melodies. The songs offer an idea of how U2 might have remained had they not gone stetson wearing, preachy and humanity rescuing. Unlike their contemporaries The Chameleons never compromised their vision; this debut album laying down a template.
Pleasingly there is a notable absence of cameras/phones, that curious practice of placing a barrier between you and the now; what will the lasting memory be of? Despite the line-up consisting of past, present and future, tonight is of here and now.