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NO RETRO
:: David Thomas Broughton :: Remember Remember ::
02 June 2010 / Retro Bar / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine

The most interesting things happen in the most unlikely places. Manchester is awash with live venues these days, from the shiny new city centre clubs to the corners of Chorlton's bohemian bars, yet the musical innovators are most likely to be found in Saki - a (barely) converted restaurant - and here in the basement of a student pub whose street-level existence is best described as unremarkable. This evening Retro is in the hands of Fat Out Til You Pass Out, who specialise in the experimental and leftfield, avant-garde metal, post rock, doom and anything else whose very existence confounds people - you know, those people who've put Jack bloody Johnson at number one in the album chart this week, whoever the hell they might be - who equate music with nice tunes. So you have to wonder if Fat Out are being deliberately obtuse here, as there are plenty of nice tunes to be had tonight. Admittedly nice tunes wrapped in and embroidered with various levels of weirdness, but nice tunes nonetheless.

David Thomas Broughton is "a London-based folk singer and guitarist" if you believe that well known online repository of variably factual information. That's a bit like saying Heston Blumenthal is a man who cooks food. Broughton does indeed sing and play guitar, and if we're putting things in little boxes then yes, his tone of voice is probably closer to "folk" than "rock". It's even closer to soul, blues and indeed on occasion - if you were to shield your eyes from the fact that it's coming from a small ginger bloke - the ghost of an African-American woman singing in the cotton fields. And indeed he uses his vocals in much the way others use samples of such - there'll be a couple of lines here, something looped, then the dissonant incursion of some low-frequency oscillation or psychedelic vibration. He seems to constantly flip between ideas - settling you into an eerie melody with his eyes fixed on some distant spot on the back wall or beyond before suddenly crouching down and mauling at pedals and switches with his hands as if to say "don't think you know where this is going, because you don't". His sounds have shapes - long sweeping curved surfaces that fold back on themselves, little strands of ribbon buffeting on the breeze, a hailstorm of tiny flecks of gravel.

Watching a solo artist at close quarters can often feel like a very intimate experience. A decent traditional singer-songwriter might offer a window to his or her soul, as they share thoughts most of us would keep to ourselves. David Thomas Broughton is not like that; the intimacy here is born from the feeling that you're a fly on the wall in his sonic laboratory. He's creating more than performing. And then at the end he flips it all on its head, and suddenly the introspective aural sculptor is most of the way to physical theatre, standing in the crowd rubbing himself like some comic parody of an insatiable pervert - even if his eyes are still somewhere else. Probably not one for the Jack Johnson fans, then.



Remember Remember win this week's - or maybe year's - award for most effects pedals ever. They cover approximately 30 per cent of Retro's stage area, which admittedly isn't exactly massive, but still. And there are quite a lot of people up there too - seven, to be precise, which is a bit of a surprise given that it's all of seven months since I watched Rock Action (as in Mogwai's label) artist Graeme J.D. Ronald - the man behind the name - hold a venue spellbound with richly woven if decidely solo neo-classical ambience. Any concern that I may have fallen foul of a naming clash is soon dissipated however as his still sweeping, still fluid sounds start to fill the space - but now augmented by a sort of post-rock chamber orchestra like the Tim And Sam Band with a large injection of Tortoise. Pretty glockenspiel twinkles and distrorted sax attacks, crashes of drums and shimmers of guitar delay; this is a near-textbook display of mixing up contrasts into a coherent and undeniably melodic whole. Given the stereotypical image of the ambient-electronic composer you almost want to congratulate him on getting some mates - although of course Rock Action has always confounded stereotypes. Mogwai themselves, for instance: great swathes of musical atmosphere presented by a bunch of Glaswegians who look like they could start a fight in an empty room. This lot, too, certainly look like they're more familiar with slightly rough pubs than recital halls.

The last track - and yes, I am quite aware how silly this is going to look written down - introduces percussion from a set of wind-up clattering toy false teeth, looped and processed into a rhythmic scrape. It's brilliant. And heading back up the stairs past posters for upcoming hardcore punk, electro-house fusion and spoken-word-with-electrofolk sessions, the irony of the venue's name is gloriously apparent. The real retro bar's round the corner, dishing up shrink-wrapped nostalgia to the musically unimaginative, whilst this basement and the eclectic line-up of independent, music-loving promoters who call it home could hardly be more forward-thinking.


Resources:
David Thomas Broughton
Remember Remember
Fat Out Til You Pass Out

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