What would be the collective noun for shoegazers? A drone? A wash? A ride? All suggestions applicable to Freak Scene, this roving, regular night of shoegaze and noise-pop whose name harks back to the longhair experimental bohemian undercurrent of the 1960s and '70s at least as much as the unrestrained fuzz-blast of the eponymous Dinosaur Jr. track.
Originally from Poland, first act The Enters tear through some especially Ride-esque smears of tremolo-powered overdriven guitar threaded through with propulsive drums and extremely danceable basslines, leaving heads nodding excitably.
Lionface are hard to pin down – a singer who sounds like Mariah Carey, perhaps thinks she's Aretha Franklin, but who resembles Lucia Holm.
But it's the francophone double-hander that the people have come to see. Like a sort of Gallic The Kills, Deux Furieuses are two girls blasting out a minimal but certainly effective, jagged sound on drums and guitar. By comparison, when she comes onstage alone, Stereolab frontwoman Laetitia Sadier remarks that her set will be a lot less after all that noise. “But that's okay, we've had a lot of music tonight already,” she says.
It's strange to see Sadier stripped of all her accoutrements. Not just the protective shield of Moogs and organs used to such great effect in creating Stereolab's indefinable krautrock-lounge-pop, but even the post-Stereolab trio she has put together for her two solo albums, 'The Trip' from 2010 and last year's 'Silencio'. She might even feel a little naked onstage, clutching a Fender Mustang which she plays left-handed. Reduced to just voice and guitar, her songs are spare and still, filled out only by Sadier's instantly recognisable voice. Even when assaulted from all directions by the hum and drone of Stereolab, her lush, melancholy tones and penchant for minor intervals always scored through – even more so here.
'The Trip' was a small and beautiful thing which while tinged with sadness (channelling the emotional impact of her sister Noelle's suicide) was never maudlin despite its personal themes. The cover of Les Rita Mitsouko's 'Un Soir, Un Chien' is played as bubbling French disco on the album, but here stripped back to its smallest core the lyrical double meanings appear: “Quand tu l'as décidé, tu m'as laissée/Et je suis resté attachée/Et moi je resterais/Quand même.”
Sadier's songs on 'Silencio' return to the more strident political themes for which she is known. How little has changed in the 20 years since her scathing criticism of power in the likes of Stereolab's 'Ping Pong', 'Outer Accelerator' and 'Nihilist Assault Group' – something she acknowledges as she allows herself a little bitter laugh introducing 'Rule of the Game': “This is about how we have let the financial markets rule our lives - remember that one?” It's a quick set but memorable, holding this audience rapt and silent, mesmerised by the Shah's voice, her intriguing Frenchness, her strident philosophy, and perhaps the sound of mellotrons and Moogs playing only in their heads.
Words and photos by Michael Parker