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Loop (live at Doug Fir Lounge)

Portland, OR
16 May 2014

After several weeks of attending the vaunted interior of Mississippi Studios, it seem that the calendar had skipped from 1963 to 1968 or so. Maybe 1970. The flower power and idealism and utopia of bands like Acid Mothers Temple and Trans Am were replaced by benzedrine paranoia and velocity, as the intrepid Gary Oaks and myself set foot inside the infernal go-go den of the Doug Fir Lounge, right on Burnside Ave., Portland’s mainline, to see the reunited Loop’s first United States tour since 1990.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Loop released their last full-length, A Gilded EternityLoveless hadn’t even been released yet, and it seemed that journalists were having a great time bludgeoning the burgeoning shoegaze scene. And while they termed it ‘The Scene That Celebrates Itself,” it might be more accurate to describe it as “The Scene That Flagellates Itself,” when considering the attrition of waylaid bands; poor waifish corpses like so much carrion by the side of the road, as all the artful optimism was ground under the banal stacked heels of Brit Pop.

It is a testament to taste, and to some of the advantages of universal access to information and a curatorial bent to the modern listener that Brit Pop has been pretty much disintegrated into dust, while shoegaze experienced a renaissance in the 2000s. It seems that the 24 years that have elapsed have made us all more comfortable with minimalism, repetition and attitude. This must be the case, as the Doug Fir was wall-to-wall with black clad trance warriors, old and young, new fans and diehards. The time is right to ascend to Loop’s Gilded Eternity.

Loop has to be the most perfect and accurate band name in history. Most of their songs follow a similar format: a song heralded by a simple chiming guitar line or bludgeoning bassline, which is quickly echoed and fleshed out by the remaining members, until a solid bedrock of reverberating echoes is established, in which case head guitarist Robert Hampson takes off like Flight Of The Navigator on wings of wah-wah and flange. Oh, how long it has been since we’ve freaked out and lost our shit to flying wah-wah solos? We will always and forever belong to the Electric Church, consumed by the holy ghost of acid rock.

Still, it’s easy to understand how Loop remained an underground phenomenon during their initial run. There is not the slightest acquiescence to pop formulae – very little in the ways of verse, chorus, coda, bridge. Not much in the way of sing-song singalong anthems either. Instead, their songs are elaborate, evolving organisms that build and coalesce, simmer and soar. Theirs’ seems to be a singular and rarefied vision, based around volume and repetition. The closest comparison to Loop’s live incarnation is of the white-heat minimalism of psych-monsters Oneida, particularly the behemoth “Sheets Of Easter,” from 2002’s Each One Teach One. You have to let this music overtake you; you have to go along with it. You have to climb on board the mothership, or else get the fuck out of the kitchen. And even while trancey, repetitive music is my absolute favorite, it can make me a bit nervous, as I wonder how others will react to it. In this instance, I could relax as it seemed the packed hall was along the ride, being washed over with their own private visions and cloistered clusters of heavy metal visionaries introspectively writhed and headbanged to Loop’s 60s spiritualism.

The show started off with a pre-recorded drone, before launching into “Soundhead”, from Heaven’s End, which quickly burst into “The Nail Will Burn” from A Gilded Eternity. It was a good overview of Loop’s general aesthetic and recorded history, but the songs seemed almost arbitrary, like chapters in a long atmospheric novel. There are lyrics, but they are swallowed in riffs and reverberation, in a classic ‘gaze formula. I would like to give a special mention to second guitarist Scott Dowson, who’s not particularly flash, but I was struck by the consistent repetition of phrases, doubling what Hampson would play on the octave, providing interest, depth and texture, preventing the proceedings from becoming a bludgeoning, boring riff-factory. He stuck to the basics, what was called for, in the most impressive display of restraint and minimalism that I have seen this side of Wire. Indeed, Loop could be seen as a kind of post-punk trance music – reaching for the heavens from the gutter, funnelling the incense and peppermints of flower power through pop art and nihilism; through fast cars and damaged speakers and sleepless nights. For me, personally, this is some of my favorite music, as it is interested in the infinite, but it’s coming from a more militant place – more brick, mortar and concrete than ashram or rainforest.

This is more essential now than ever. For those of us who are still interested in the absolute, we must fight to keep our heads and souls intact. Despite all the optimism and inevitably of the ’60s and ’70s, the wheels of capitalism have ground on, completely undeterred, completely oblivious to the protests; in fact, turning a tidy protest from the outcries. At times, it seems that any true rebellion is impossible, as can be evidenced from rock’s primal fury becoming the ultimate nostalgia trip and lifestyle accessory. While it seems like that contradiction would be irreconcilable, it just goes to show how utterly blind and gullible most people are. But on the other hand, true protest goes unnoticed, slipping between the cracks, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, with powerful rituals being conducted in back alleys and basements; and in this case, a paisley-painted rock ‘n roll hall.

In this instance, I was quite proud of Portland. The show was sold-out or damn near, and people were engaged and rocking out the whole time, if sometimes sedately and introspectively. People didn’t squander the opportunity to see one of the main carriers of the pure strain of shoegaze and to be infected by it.

Seattle space rockers Kinski opened, but I missed them for the second time in two weeks. Don’t make the same mistake as me – go see them if they come to a theater near you, or be transported by their records, which are quite fabulous. And while yr at it, even if you didn’t have a chance to see Loop in this reincarnation — and pity for you, if that’s the case, because this is not going to be around for long — but check out Loop’s re-issues from 2008, delightfully remastered and with lots of extras. And once yr hooked, check out Main, which have turned out some essential ambient works for guitar and laptop post-processing and featured both of Loop’s guitar players, as well as German ambient producer Stephan Mathieu.

-J Simpson-

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