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Stereocilia / Grasslands (live at The Tuppenny)

22 February 2018

Stereocilia live February 2018The good people at the latest of Swindon’s venues, The Tuppenny, have been brave enough to unleash the might of two of the town’s finest sons on an unsuspecting public. First up is the extremely affable Tom, who when donning his magic wolf’s hat becomes sonic terrorist Grasslands, defender of the faith of the open veldt and ex-employee of the month at Safeway in Aberystwyth.

Set up in the corner of the room with a handful of people hanging on his every word, he asked us what our favourite grasses are as he dove into his opening track, which found the recorded voice of a young American girl regaling us with her favourite grassland animals. Over this, Tom piled broken beats and played guitar one-handed as the other tinkered with Toytown instrumentation. The effect was surreal and quaint, and absolutely not what I was expecting from a Thursday night in Swindon.

Once the track had broken down into cut-up vocal snippets and meandering rumblings, another guitar was brought out and both hands took charge for a couple of slightly more straightforward tracks. Tom’s voice is rather sweet and went well with the Sparklehorse-style basement experimentation of the song structures. At one point, the guitar went all post-punky and the simple drum machine accompaniment with cut-up vocals turned into a vertigo-inducing scrabble of sound that found a number of the punters scrabbling for the door. “Nothing changes everything”; these words were chopped up, swilled around and spat out in a myriad of permutations until the whole thing ground to a swollen halt and a smattering of applause.

For the final track, Grasslands went electric, this time with a paean to working the nightshift at Safeway. The sounds of the checkout, a ringing xylophone and a leaden beat carried a children’s warning to the perils of the supermarket. “When I walk through the aisles of the shadow of death, I see Mars bars”, we are warned as our one-handed bedsit guitar hero throws the quietest of shapes and wows the crowd. A really entertaining set and proof that there is both imagination and talent in Swindon. Both Mic and I had to buy the album, so go google him or whatever we do these days and search out his album. You may learn something!

I must confess, we had come out to see John Scott, tonight trading under his Stereocilia moniker, on the back of a recent album release with Guy Metcalfe from Thoughtforms backing him on drums. Guy wasn’t here tonight, but John more than made up for it with his leaden drum machine, wall of drone and guitar fireworks. There was a serious increase in volume to start with, and any chattering that was going on around us was drowned out by the phased drones and inverted helicopter sounds that felt like we were being dropped straight into the set of Apocalypse Now.

Stereocilia live February 2018Slow waves crashed across us, colossal waves that sent those few people sticking their heads round the venue door scuttling off for the relative safety of anywhere else as the power of the drone and John’s strangely Eastern-sounding tuning proving too much, save for the hardy. The tips of the drones broke like the crest of ever more punishing waves as the sound gradually took over the room. At points, the guitar sounded like somebody battering aluminium sheets and reverberated off everything around us, the frenzied cry of the strings struggling to be heard above the sonic maelstrom.

A simple hesitant beat was just about discernible beneath everything else as the guitar coiled around the room like a group of snakes drawing the audience into the whirling eye of the storm. The guitar halted and we were drawn around the edge of a black hole. The room was too well lit for this sort of aura and at one point the landlord turned the volume down a smidge, such was the effect on the clientèle.

Things became less structured after this, like emissions from some forlorn place, straining to escape the heartbeat hum of distant satellites. For these ethereal places just out of reach, the guitar was like a beacon of hope in a rudderless universe, having to traverse light years, but after a while these emissions gradually weakened, lost around the pulse of a dying star. When the volume kicked back in, the guitar sounded like a wall of comet debris, disrupting all transmissions and for all the world the feeling we had was like that of a child looking up at the night sky watching a meteor shower — and then suddenly, through some cosmic trick, actually finding themselves part of that shower.

As things started to fade and decay, I opened my eyes to find all around me as it was and people were clapping and buying records. For just a short while I was that little boy, and I have Stereocilia and Swindon to thank for that. Catch him in Brighton on Saturday if you can. If not, buy the record. You know you should.

-Words: Mr Olivetti-
-Pictures: Michael Rodham-Heaps-

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