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Loop/Godflesh (live at Heaven)

Loop live at HeavenLondon
4 June 2014

“In case of sonic attack,” warned Hawkwind, “follow these rules,” before advocating such crazy measures as “try to get as far from the sonic source as possible.” One assumes, therefore, that the combined onslaught of Loop and Godflesh doesn’t technically count as an “attack,” what with being consensual. More like sonic S/M play, maybe. Because the urge here definitely seems to tend towards getting as close to the sonic source as possible.

Godflesh live at Heaven

And the first sonic source tonight is Godflesh, the UK’s pioneers of industrial rock and things that go “RRRRRRRRR AAAAAAGHHH!!!” in the night. And they haven’t lost any of their ferocity or raw anger in the time they’ve been away. Justin Broadrick finally appears to be ageing slightly, and now appears to be in his twenties after a career spanning three decades; but he bellows like a man who’s seen it all and hated every minute of it. Rocking back and forth like Arthur Fowler in his potting shed, he unleashes ultimate devastation with every stroke of his guitar, chucking out the chunkiest of riffs in front of a backdrop of fire, crucifixions, industrial decay and the odd bit of Bosch just in case we weren’t sure that the world is indeed Hell.

Godflesh live at Heaven

America’s nearest-equivalent drum machine rockers, Big Black, famously described the two guitarists’ roles as “guitar grr” and “guitar sking” on their classic album Songs About Fucking, but here Broadrick does both grr and sking himself, leaving GC Green to pull of the surprisingly difficult trick of making bass strings sound like the metal cords they are. Mick Harvey used to do this with the Bad Seeds, but in his case they were hanging chains grinding against one another in a slaughterhouse, while Green’s are snapping elevator cables, crackling with electricity and condemning us to a one-way trip to the infernal basement level.

Godflesh live at Heaven

Meanwhile the building is being destroyed by a big fuck-off robot tank, whose driver’s cranked up a hip hop station REALLY LOUD, meaning it’s a robot tank you can dance to, those jaunty little hi-hat sounds making it sound more like it’s strolling along, indifferent to the carnage it causes, rather than stomping and revelling in the destruction. “Mothra,” in particular, as befits its title, brings out the funk inherent in any great kaiju/giant mech conflict and should really have been on the Pacific Rim soundtrack. Tonight it’s the one that really gets the crowd moving, somewhere between a moshpit and a sea of metal woodpeckers. And when the music hits its rare calmer passages, it feels like nothing so much as that feeling you get when the serial killer who’s got you tied up in his car boot stops driving for a bit to get a coffee and have a piss. YOU know that feeling, right? The brief respite between horrors.

Godflesh live at Heaven

And yet it’s all gloriously triumphant — in part because we’re all so pleased to have them back, but largely because it’s such wonderfully cathartic music. It’s the sonic equivalent of punching a wall, only with the added bonus that you might actually smash a hole in it. And smash a hole in it they do, eschewing the busy claustrophobia of Godflesh for the expansive cosmic space of Loop.

Loop live at Heaven

One criticism of the revived Loop project that I’ve seen knocking about is that they’re essentially just playing Stooges-style riffs over and over again for ages at bonecrushing volume. Now there are two problems with this school of thought — one is that it’s not anywhere near the whole picture; and the other is that it kind of assumes that playing Stooges-style riffs over and over again for ages at bonecrushing volume is in some way a bad thing, which it manifestly isn’t. Playing Stooges-stlye riffs over and over again for ages at bonecrushing volume is an utterly magnificent thing, as is repetition; which is all just as well, because that’s how they get you.

Seeing Loop live again after all these years is the missing piece in the puzzle that explains why Godflesh’s Broadrick managed to go from grindcore to shoegaze — because, like My Bloody Valentine, there was always a brutal element to Loop, who got dragged into that whole thing largely due to being loud and psychedelic at the same time, avoiding all the fey indie-pop shenanigans that accompanied the scene. They’re the missing piece of the puzzle, the thing that makes the noise make sense.

Loop live at Heaven

Loop live at Heaven

Even at their most conventionally song-like, such as when they play “Breathe Into Me,” they’re essentially freeing your mind by crushing your skull in a warm but insistent cushion of noise. I have a theory that the reason all the great bands that are resurfacing now — Swans, My Bloody Valentine, Loop, Godflesh — are the really loud ones is that they’re the only ones those of us who’ve punished our ears so comprehensively over time can still hear properly, but it’s too depressing to go into now. Let’s just bathe in the majesty that’s Loop live again, more affable these days but making a sound every bit as transcendent as it was back when Star Wars was still a trilogy, and a fairly recent one at that. Those awesome riffs keep your body moving, while sustained notes get mangled beyond comprehension by effects and solos spiral off into the burning sky. But Loop’s music, unlike, say, Swans or Godflesh, is firmly rooted in rock and roll, giving it that indefinable good-time feel you get from someone like Boris, even at their sludgiest.

By the time it all draws to a close, it’s almost a relief that I can’t go tomorrow to see the same bands in reverse order. Not because I wouldn’t love it, but because my ears won’t have recovered yet.

So we use our wheels. It is, after all, what they are for.

-Words: Justin Farrington-
-Pictures: Dave Pettit-

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