Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
19th October, 2002

gig review by Dominic Simpson

The Track & Field club nights have become the most interesting events in London, with their play list centring on the kind of indie-pop, from The Pastels to Yo La Tengo to The Shop Assistants to Comet Gain, that has never quite fitted in while remaining always a cult phenomenon.

Organised by the Track & Field collective, this unique night has the distinction of taking place in the unusual surroundings of the ICA, just a walk away from Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square. Apparently the Jesus & Mary Chain started a riot in here back in 1985, though such rumours are no doubt exaggerated through the mists of time. Five bands are on tonight, and the first, THE PROJECTS, not only include an ex-member of Stereolab on keyboards but also sound reminiscent of them too. That is, until the keyboards repeatedly play up and said person is left in frustration, shouting at the mixing desk. The guitarist remains the most interesting figure, though, churning out brittle noises as a counterpart to the malfunctioning keyboard noises. Meanwhile, the Swedish singer cynically regards the audience with her hands folded and the bassist turns his back to the audience. It wasn't their night; such are the perils of being the first band on of five. The Projects are followed by WIGWAM, who promptly alienate half the audience by singing in Welsh for the first song, then pointedly inform the audience (in English) afterwards of the song's language. Wigwam deal with the kind of twisted folk music more akin to Gorky's Zygotic Mynci than any bearded clichés and Morris dancing, and the music is augmented by atmospheric keyboards that combine with the guitars to produce a layered, textual acoustic sound. At parts, it can be spellbinding, evoking a tranquil, shimmering, slightly drug-hazed pastoral sound which never strays into cliché.

Judging by the reception they receive, much of the audience tonight have come to see SALOON, Track & Field's very own future-retro exponents from Reading; they play the kind of twisted futuristic pop tinged with Adam Ashton's feedback-coaxed guitar that recalls - again - Stereolab but also, with Alison Cotton's notable voila playing, Nico, Belle & Sebastian, and the icy motorik futurism of Kraftwerk. 'Have You Seen The Light' is outstanding, with it's chugging guitar, enveloping, swirling (and now ubiquitous) Moog keyboard and driving drums, providing the perfect foil for Amanda Gomez's crystal clear vocals. '2500 Walden Avenue' is a downtempo waltz underpinned by Cotton's wailing, almost Eastern European voila, while 'Girls Are The New Boys', John Peel's number one festive fifty choice, is given a harder edge than the mid-paced album version.

The crowd's receptiveness to Saloon sadly does not extend to the down-tempo MOVIETONE, who specialise in the kind of introspective, layered and reflective music that will forever by labelled 'atmospheric'. '3AM Walking Smoking Talking' dwells on the blurred, hazy ennui often felt at that time of the morning, augmented by droning clarinet, quiet keyboards and softy spoken vocals. The reflective, low-key, jazz-tinged sound evokes soundtracks as much as possible, equally intense similar artists such as Broadcast, the Bardo Pond and some of Mogwai's later material; part of the Bristol indie scene often featured on Domino records, they have links to the likes of Third Eye Foundation and Flying Saucer Attack. The link to jazz seems more pronounced with the introduction of an enormous, cumbersome double-bass. It's just a shame that the subtlety of their intoxicating music is lost of some members of audience, with heckling idiots feeling the need to shout "I'm bored!" This precious, reflective music simply doesn't connect with a lot of the audience, and that's a real shame.

Which leaves us with QUICKSPACE, featuring two former members of obscure early 90's indie band Th' Faith Healers. Acknowledging their ever shifting line-up, an audience heckler asks what they did with their last singer. "We killed her", replies Roxanne Stephen, their current one. Their sound is difficult to categorize, with band leader Tom Cullihan layering hypnotic and noisy slabs of churning guitar noise with a discernable Krautrock influence, similar to early Stereolab albums like 'Switched On' (who shared the Too Pure label with Th' Faith Healers). Indeed, much of the set seems based around long, droning, detuned chords, driving drums, and plinking keyboards, set off against Roxanne Stephen's abrasive vocals. It's no surprise that Th' Faith Healers apparently used to do a mesmerising cover of Can's 'Mother Sky'; that song's 14 minute phantasmagoric two-bass-note freak out could apply to the driving groove of Quickspace, particularly in the precise, repetitious drums and minimal crunching guitar drone; but this is in now way implying that the set becomes tedious through repetition. But though a pop bent comes through - particularly on their driving single 'Friend', not played tonight - this is in no way Top 40 material. Half way through, as if in acknowledgment of the demented quality of their music, a member of the crowd decides to climb on the stage impromptu and bellow the lyrics to the crowd. It's a perfect moment to crown a night of innovation, texture and adventure - proof, in an age when the NME promotes the dismal likes of The Vines and Melody Maker has been long defunct, that independent music can still excite and be adventurous without having to pander - and for it all to appear on air, with the Resonance FM banner billed large in the background, validates nights like these, making them even more important when faced with so much mediocrity around.