womb @ off with their heads, islington mill

Last Friday, the day before the Glasgow trip Womb played at the first Off With Their Heads event at Islington Mill.

They were slightly less beaty and droney than previous outings - but I thought excellent. Certainly this set was a great improvement on Fuel. Where that lacked dynamics and tension - and sometimes seemingly ideas - this possessed all of them in abundance.

Overall the set was more disjointed with a greater variety of textures and tempos. The voices were more prominent and more effective than previously. The rhythm and tempo shifted throughout without even seeming indecisive.

As you might imagine the band again appeared to be operating within an improv/jazz tradition. A dialectic between different ideas played out in the music rather than a finalised synthesis easily identifiable as a particular genre or combination of genres.*

The start of the set was relatively quiet and spacious compared to some previous performances. This set the tone for the rest of the performance in a way. With drums and bass less dominant than previously the sound was lighter, nimbler, with more spaces in it.

This flexibility meant that different instruments or combinations of instruments could take the lead - or engage in the most prominent dialogue - at different points. This helped ease those changeovers - of drummer, of musicians switching instruments - that have sometimes been troublesome in the past.

Particularly during the drum changeovers the keyboards and electronic noise became the spine for a while. At other times one or both guitars led. And other combinations took their turn.

This opening out and development of the sound shows that there is a lot more to Womb than Dionysian racket and motorik beats. They are beginning to develop their own sound.

I mentioned the voices worked better this time. The vocal performances most recognisable as language were delivered through a megaphone and therefore rendered less intelligible. The shouts and sung tones felt more like voices being used as instruments and part of the whole than the kind of pasted-on additions (good as they were) in previous sets.

As the sound built I also liked the inadvertent effect that whenever the megaphone was lifted to be sung/spoken into it started feeding-back into the mic.

Although of course it is still early days it's very apparent that Womb aren't well served by going on first or early in the bill. Performing further up the bill when there are more people in whatever space it happens to be, and those people are more willing to dance suits them better.

This performance was both enjoyable and danceable, and genuinely improvisatory and exploratory. There was always a sense that it might just collapse or the musicians might fall out of sync and have to find their way back. This sense of risk and tension was missing from the last gig.

This is one of the reasons why I think the band are better suited to being further up the bill. The kind of negotiation and improvisation Womb venture is not just a collaborative endeavour between the band. It also involves the audience, the space and the interaction between all these elements.

The set ended when the musicians decided slowly and not all together that they'd probably done enough. The instruments gradually tailing off until the band announced that was it, and it was over.

*Feel free to submit this paragraph to Pseuds Corner - strobes@private-eye.co.uk

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