Thursday, January 26, 2006

an evening at the crow

The other week I went up a mountain an whoah, I loved it. The big sweep of rural vista hit something primal, essential and marvellous.

But oh how i love the urban environment too. The feel of so much life going on around you, and the peculiar beauty to be found. If you ignore what the rules and the money are telling you to do, there's so much to discover.

In the middle of Leeds is an underpass that was closed a few years ago because nobody used it, preferring instead to take their chances crossing the busy road above.

As Bill Bryson said,

Architects and city planners and everyone else responsible for urban life seems to have lost sight of what cities are for. They are for people. That seems obvious enough, but for half a century we have been building cities that are for almost anything else: for cars, for businesses, for developers, for people with money and bold visions who refuse to see cities from ground level, as places in which people must live and function and get around.

Why should I have to walk through a damp tunnel and negotiate two sets of stairs to get across a busy street? Why should cars be given priority over me? How can we be so rich and so stupid at the same time?

Coming up out of the central Leeds ex-underpass is an escalator, now also disused. The steel steps are collapsing and it is being colonised by moss.

I love the way such a slow-growing, so soft and gentle an organism is reclaiming something so hard as steel, something usually moving, scraping and shiny.

When I consider not just its aesthetic value, but its symbolic value too, what it says about how readily nature reclaims land, how there are secret special places all around, then I have to say it is one of the most moving and beautiful things I've ever seen.

And it's just sat there, in the open, for anyone to see if they would look.

There are so many bits of useable things left around the place, and those with a bit of imagination and suss can make a lot from it. Not just in what it makes us think and feel, but in the opportunites of things to do.

There are hundreds of disused buildings just there for the taking. In Leeds we periodically open one up under the name Aspire and show political films, run a cafe, do workshops to educate each other and put on the best parties the city ever sees.

Aspire's not the only ones. Last week a disused pub by the Tetley brewery was opened as a squat gig venue. Previously called The Crown, the n was removed to rechristen it The Crow (giving rise to innumerable Withnail 'an evening at the Crow' references).

Last night there was a Queer Mutiny gig.

Queer Mutiny have done nights at Aspire and other squats before, making a space that's pushing for joyous demolition of gender roles and gender itself, giving people the space to challenge and celebrate their notions of sexuality.

The bands were corking. I was late so missed The Unpleasants, which is Gareth Brown out of Hood doing a solo thing that sounds like creepy European fairground music soundtracking a tense horror movie. Incidentally, by coincidence McClusky once did a song called Gareth Brown Says that has one of my favourite opening lines ever; 'all your friends are cunts and your mother is a ballpoint pen thief'.

Which brings us to the first band I did see, Boycunt. Guitar, drums and vocals, mean riffing, power-clockwork beats and low cathartic vocals. This was raw, mesmeric, moronic, serrated yet somehow eerie punk. Fury, power, simplicity, significance. It's the first time in over a decade I've seen a band that made me want to start one just like it of my own.

On the way in to the gig I hadn't understood what was meant when someone on the door had asked if I wanted tit tape. When Jean Genet hit the stage I realised. Both of them, and all of a sudden a good half of the audience, had bare chests with an X of tape over each nipple, as pioneered by punk original Wendy O Williams of The Plasmatics.

It's not just the tit-tape they have in common with Williams' band. Theatrical, hyperactive, stridently sexual, playful; they have punk energy continued on a totally different tack from Boycunt. The heavy pounding darkness is nowhere to be found. With guitar, keyboard and laptop, they jump and grind like horny felines with heads full of tartrazine. If Boycunt are semtex, Jean Genet are a fireworks factory going up in flames.

This feels like all the intent and reason for punk rather than punk in the sense of 1977 chord progressions and shouty macho vocals. Fun, fizzing energy and the sense of something to say take precedence over musical prowess. They sing bold infectiously kinetic songs about their lives and hearts, and that honesty and wit is utterly compelling. It feels bouncy, real, bright and powerful, it makes almost all other music seem boringly tame, coldly cerebral, cynically commercial, lifeless, overworked, or some combination thereof.

Using a karaoke version of Eye Of The Tiger as the backing track for rapping! Singing about how if this mic was your penis you'd have shot your load by now! Doing a songs about your lover taking ages to come and you really need to piss so eventually you piss on them and that's the thing that makes them finally pop, and preforming it writhing on the floor with a water pistol!

They are The Clash to the Scissor Sisters' Elton John. It's many years - since I first saw Spearhead in fact - since I've seen a band that made me want to catch them at all future opportunities.

Stood there, seeing two amazing bands in one amazing squatted venue for free, drinking wine made for free out of fruit rescued from the bins at a city centre wholesalers. How totally DIY, how totally cool.

I so love the urban life. I seriously doubt whether you could find a gig like that in Rhosneigr or Ormskirk on a Wednesday night.

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