Pink Grease and Performance
Denial, for the most part, is greatly liberating. Memories can be stylised and moulded into fantastic shapes, even if it’s just to get through the next day. For instance, I delude myself that I spent my three years at University in bed reading Proust; a partial truth, and one that obscures all the messiness of late nights on the prowl and the subsequent social embarrassment. If we deny things strongly enough we become mysteriously re-invented: a compact summation of who we want to be. It’s only when the past takes it revenge, what Freud called the return of the repressed, that we notice how much we have changed.
Walking blithely into the Islington Academy 2, I was startled to see two people I vaguely recognised from University. When I asked one of them what they were doing here, he responded “Oh, I’m playing tonight.” In my mind there was an explosion of memory, wrenching my unwilling ego back through the years . . .
. . . It was at a student private view three and a half years ago, in the basement of Psalter Lane, the arts campus of Sheffield Hallam University, that I experienced the worst band ever. Tuneless vocals and guitars, unstructured songs, combined with smug mediocrity that strained even the loosest definition of art-rock. One of the guys, Rory, was on my course, but we’d barely spoken in three years, he was coyly singing out of tune. Another guy, Steve, unmistakable due to his exuberance in the student bar, played guitar without knowing any chords. I smiled and walked out, glad that I would be leaving this crazy excuse for art behind.
Throughout Pink Grease’s electrifying set the image of Rory Lewarne (bleached hair, lipstick, vox, new surname) and Steve (afro, goggles, gun-shaped guitar) gamely blundering away stayed with me. Somehow, whether through a Faustian pact or sheer hard work, they have emerged as one of the best and most visceral rock ‘n’ roll band I have ever seen. The names James Osterberg (Iggy Pop), Louis Firbank (Lou Reed) and David Jones (Bowie) remind one that rock is built upon the foundations of repression and self-overcoming, without which rock ‘n’ roll would be nothing more than silly dreams. By refashioning their personalities into these gigantic, sexy things Pink Grease have achieved a sense of greatness, perhaps (although I want to hear the album first) greatness itself. I really am that excited.
Before Pink Grease came Performance, an electroclash band who seem to have reinvented themselves as robots. They are from Manchester, but are as far away from Oasis as you can imagine, made up of a fembot guitarist (amazingly, she never once dropped the robotic act), a dominatrix keyboardist (apparently they are sisters), a Hoxtonical bleeper and a handsome singer, Joe Stretch. Whereas some electroclashers cling to the life-raft of their iciness, Performance can be passionate, but only when the moment is right. “I live my life with the TV on.” Such sentiments are hard to disagree with, delineating a bleak post-human landscape of distraction from a task we’ve forgotten long ago. Perfomance’s own task is to write a few more songs (theirs was a too short set), the bleaker the better.
Chikinki are a fantastic idea that a record company had in 2002: “Let’s combine electroclash and garage rock, won’t that be brill!” And it is. The keyboards sounds dissonant and cool, the guitars are scratchy, the drums pump a solid beat, and the vocalist pulls sufficiently debauched poses. Everything is perfect, but somehow they are terrible. Abysmal. Not only do they try too hard, but the sum of their parts somehow manages to register a deficit. They don’t have the songs and they don’t have the melodies to pull it off. They are like a mannequin: slim and good-looking, but with no heart, no balls and no brain. The reverse, in fact, of Pink Grease.
At first you could be mistaken for thinking that they are an electro-rock Spinal Tap. Their bass player, Stuart, with his sequinned top, is a parody. The chap using the toothbrush to play an enormous homemade theremin is too ingenuous to be for real. It is only when Rory Lewarne sings that you realise that Pink Grease are taking no prisoners. The voice growls then cries out, picking magnetic melodies from the crazed racket going on behind him. They are unstoppable in the home stretch, with members from all the other bands crowding the stage, a rock ‘n’ roll circus indeed. Happiness pervades the room, everyone in the audience is smiling, and I have briefly come to terms with my past, because the present is so great.