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Damo Suzuki’s Network/Rothko (live at The Scala)

21 March 2001

In tow with the usual Krautrock London posse I arrived at The Scala just in time to hear lots of talk about how a lot of people have not been here since it was a infamous cinema. Though I never saw it in its glory, the building is still impressive with its loads of marble and Art Deco swirly tiles not quite lost in the stripped-pine modern re-structure. Other talk in the grand foyer was about the nearly embarrassing quantity of people here to see the magnificent performers on hand. It was true, there was a significant lack of bodies present considering the even to be, but nevermind, the Scala is a big venue, and most crowds might seem small inside it.

RothkoThe nights music began with Rothko, a suprise to me and a pleasant one to say the least. The bass guitar trio were in loud form for their brief set. I know little to nothing about this band, having seen them only once before and never having heard any of their recordings. None the less, this time and last time I was moved by their music. The crowd seemed to enjoy it as well and offered much enthusiastic applause. Rothko’s music is that very organic sort of guitar and source stuff which comes off as completely male (I mean this in a wholely non-sexist way), both powerful and sweet all at once. A little bit ambient, a lot melodic, energetically paced and very groove smooth. I thought them a very appropriate way to prepare the ears for Damo Suzuki with a similar jab at the timeless and genre-less soul filled sounds of not Rock, despite using one of its main instruments, if in more numbers than usually found on a stage at once.

Mark Spybey Things at The Scala moved very smoothly and after Rothko’s short set it was only a brief delay before Damo’s Network got on with things. The crowd was still small but quality made up for quantity and the enthusiasm was genuine and palpable. The age range was vast and perhaps the cutest thing ever was the grey haired grandad who beemed the smile of a timeless teenager. Damo and Michael Karoli came on to stage staffed by Uwe Jancker on guitar, drummer Jens Kuchental, bass courtesy of Madjao Fati and the electronic tweakings of Dead Voices On Air‘s very one and only Mark Spybey. It was impossible to ignore a little contrast there; Karoli was gaunt and drunk and silly, Damo was meek and healthy and perhaps even a bit humble.

Michael KaroliNot much time was wasted on entrances however and the music kicked in right away. It was Can-like and not at all, with African and Jamaican elements among the Germanic loping grooves. It was hypnotic and loud. Full of the fast rolling energy of always. Karoli lept off stage early on and got into the audience almost like ritual playing up to Damo’s slight frame and big voice. I kept hearing the phrase, “it’s a long way…” sung, and whether this means a long way to go or a long way to have come, or simply an aberation of my hearing., well, who can say? The words go away and the voice becomes an instument of music. Thanks to the murky mix, the lyrics were impossible to understand, though the vocal engineering did improve during the second set.

Damo SuzukiThroughout, whether we as an audience were understanding or not, the stamina with which Damo sang was astounding. It was after their ten minute break that Damo really hit a stride and the power emanating from him was as electric as a storm. Karoli seemed to have a few technical difficultiesDamo Suzuki and Madjao Fatis and also seemed to play on right through them. He transferred back and forth from guitar to beat up violin to electric cello. I remember looking up at him once and marvelling at the amount of perspiration on his mad face. Clearly, however diffidently these performers approached a live show, their enjoyment was thorough. They played on and on completing an almost three hour set before taking their bows and calling it a night. In fact, it was Mr. Karoli who wouldn’t or couldn’t stop playing for a while after everyone else left the stage, a great smile making his face look a little less menacing than earlier. The bows were a bit of a comedy and Damo came off stage to give hugs to anyone who would have them, and we left into the cold night, happy and radiant.

-Lilly Novak-

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