At Southbank's Ether Festival

As with pretty much every single situation, person and thought in the UK for over a week, the excellent annual muso showcase that is Ether Festival had been affected by volcanic ash, with several overseas artists having to cancel performances. Luckily for me, my chosen acts were unaffected. In your face, Iceland.

Although undeniably eclectic, Ether leans more towards things of an electronic nature, but tonight’s triple bill had more of a guitars, drums and general oddball rock feel to it, aptly demonstrated by Chrome Hoof: A 12-piece ‘doom house’ band, dressed a bit like extras from Stargate and a bit like Sun O))), playing jagged, complex metal, with snatches of funk, disco and Tortoise-esque instrumental breaks, with a singer looking and sounding like a younger, slinkier Grace Jones, edging around the stage in a silver catsuit. They were awesome, as repeated throaty chants of “HOOF” from audience members testified. Plus their drummer was so good it made me want to weep.

But despite being massively entertaining, don’t mistake Chrome Hoof for a novelty act. Combining a choir, saxophone and violin into their uniquely heavy weirdness, they carry more genuine musical clout and skill than most acts can hope for.
In the interval, the ever-impressive, ever-inventive, ever-entertaining Andy Weatherall played a DJ set of post-punk, bastardised disco and other instrumental oddities. To be honest, whether spinning a genre-leaping set such as this or relaying his own tunes, the man can do no wrong, so let’s just leave it at that.

HEALTH, meanwhile, loudly and fatally shattered any naïve expectations I had of watching a nice, pleasant art-rock band. Music journos sometimes (actually, quite often) need an audio kick in the balls to take them out of their comfort bubble, and thank Christ these four were on hand to provide it, through massive walls of distorted grungy guitars, pounding drums and boundless energy.

The spectacle of seeing an insanely loud and heavy band shaking the foundations of the normally refined foyer of the Southbank centre was a sight to behold, and I guess sums up what Ether is about – blitzing the boundaries and all that. ‘Die Slow’ goes down a treat, with a minor (friendly) stage invasion from some excited audience members, and newer tracks like ‘USA Boys’ sounding just as huge as older material.

At the bar, a wild-eyed but thoroughly friendly punter expresses his admiration, after removing his earplugs: “Yeah, you need these at a HEALTH gig. Last time I saw them I couldn’t hear for two days after. Fucking worth it though – great band.”

He was not wrong. But for the record, I loved Chrome Hoof that little bit more.

Words by Tristan Parker
Photo by Renata Raksha

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