Corsica Studios, London, UK
The dark and cavernous Corsica Studios is a worthwhile setting for a night themed on violence. Hailing from Oslo, the no wave stoner rock trio MoE opens the concert with bursts of angular guitar, irregular war-like rhythms and a low end so brutal it hijacks the body.
Guro Skumsnes Moe, the bass-playing lead singer, sports an incredibly controlled vocal range that oscillates between energetic guttural retching and piercing high frequencies. Songs like ‘Wild Horses’ exponentially build in volume and intensity, recalling the insufferable cruelty of early Swans. Lyrics are hard to pick out from the noise, but Moe’s theatrics (she beats her chest, traps wire wool in her hair and uses a silk scarf as a blindfold) bring to mind the ancient Greek prophet Tiresias and blind Lady Justice.
Moe dedicates a song to Valerie Solanas, the American feminist notorious for shooting Andy Warhol and authoring the ‘SCUM Manifesto’. Turning 51 this year, the manifesto calls for the extermination of men everywhere, arguing that they are responsible for all of the world’s problems. Although Solanas’s treatise shouldn’t be taken at face value, it’s an important work in the canon of western feminism and clearly informs tonight’s events.
Much like Solanas, Lydia Lunch sees the world as parasitic. However, Lunch does not mark her antagonist as any particular person, group or sex. Reading from pages of free-association verse, her words dive in and out of irony, self-deprecation and accusations. The target of her discord is ambiguous and, it could be said, that she’s at once finding fault in herself as well as the listener.
Lunch’s verses are punctuated with drums and electronics played by Weasel Walter, best known as the founder of The Flying Luttenbachers. The two musicians push and pull, often challenging each other for dominance. It’s an interesting dynamic to observe. Walter gets so involved with the beat that he appears to forget Lunch altogether. Lunch then corrects him by sternly hitting the rim of his kick drum with her palm, bringing Walter out of his rhythmically induced trance.
Lunch and Walter have been collaborating together since at least 2012, when Lunch formed Retrovirus. This band, also consisting of Tim Dahl (Child Abuse) and Bob Bert (Sonic Youth/Pussy Galore), has a retrospective outlook, spanning Lunch’s entire career. It performs songs by Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, 8 Eyed Spy, 1313 and her solo material.
In September 2016, Lunch and Walter released ‘Brutal Measures’ on Lunch’s own Widowspeak Productions label. Recorded in one live session, with no editing or overdubs, this single twenty-minute composition reflects much of what is going on this evening, with elements of jazz, abstract electronic noise and intense spoken word all being present. As players, Lunch and Walter are more generous to each other on the recording, probably due to their control over the studio environment. By contrast, tonight’s performance is in front of an audience, tension is evident and, inevitably, technical difficulties occur.
Lunch’s monologue covers topics such as murder, madness and suicide. She invites us to enter her dark and violent world, at one point admitting that: “All of my songs are literary autopsies”. In spite of this invitation, you get the feeling that Lunch would prefer to keep us at a distance. Furthermore, she offers no solutions to the problems she lists (WWII, Hiroshima et al). We’re left to face our own apparent nihilism and contempt for each other. As if to emphasise this point, Lunch concedes that: “the moment that becomes unbearable is where I belong”. But if art makes you feel uncomfortable, then it’s probably doing something interesting.
Originally published by Wire, April 2018