It's a bad day to be a drum – wrong place, wrong time.
If you're a drum today, you are going to get your head kicked in, because it's all about the drummers – a succession of progressively more meaty, more bristling, more intense human beat machines battering out complex rhythms to the point that even from the back of the stage the drummers upstaged everyone else. Gentlemen, take a bow.
Prog is back. When math-rock behemoths Battles dropped debut album 'Mirrored' in 2007 they must have opened the a rift in the fabric of space-time through which poured generation-old ideas of lyric-less extended instrument breakdowns, extreme time changes, key-shifts and general proggery.
All of which live on in The Physics House Band, right down to the tight paisley shirts, array of vintage synths including a Moog, Fender Rhodes and Hammond, jazz bass played at approximately neck level, and esoteric track names like 'Teratology', 'ObeliskMonolith' and 'Abraxical Solapse'. Three lads from Brighton, they play an incredibly tight set of cleverly arranged, heavy-jazz-prog-rock tracks from their debut Horizons/Rapture EP, from which the stand-out is 'Titan', an arpeggiated piano-driven monster propelled by the stickwork of Dave Morgan, the first of this evening's incredible drummers.
Portasound have been described as electro-pop, but considering that term also describes Little Boots and Madonna it's fair to say it comes up short. With gleaming keyboards stacked on top of each other like iced cakes on a cake stand, they bring more electronics than either of their Blood and Biscuits labelmates playing tonight, blasting out acid-tinged basslines, wonky square wave stabs and bubbling synths underneath layers of guitar, held together and by the pounding precision brutality of drummer Graham Gaffney. Taking their name from the cheap Yamaha keyboard, Portasound's best has a cinematic quality, like themes from never made sci-fi films. The crystalline breakdowns in 'Polaris' sparkle (like C-beams near Tannhauser Gate, perhaps?), and the band is not afraid to let notes ring out into silence. The metallic, doom-laden entrance of 'Procession' conjures images of some off-world prison colony, and the gradual, almost beatless build of 'Ascension' is pure Vangelis. On the other hand the obvious, uninspired riffs from tracks like 'Time Lost' and 'Furore' stray too close to Pendulum territory.
If The Physics House Band are jazz-prog and Portasound are electro-prog, then Gallops are the prog-funk of tonight's triple bill. But not in a '70s flared-trousered way. This is cybernetic syncopation funk, each layer of jangly guitar forced through the world's biggest effects peddle rack, each keyboard drone and synth stab filtered and twisted and punched into the mix perfectly in time with the hulking, terrifying drum machine that is Dave Morait (fitting, for a band named after a drum pattern). New album 'Yours Sincerely, Dr Hardcore' is clever, subtle, almost prissy with finesse, but performed live the tracks become three-dimensional – faster, heavier, more raw, working the curious syncopated rhythms of tracks like crowd pleaser 'Miami Spider', Morait drumming as if possessed, smashing stick after stick without breaking stride.
Avant-rock? Post-rock? Experimental? Whatever. Hawkwind this ain't, but prog is back, and it's never sounded so good.
Words and photos by Michael Parker