There’s something about an unconventional marriage of inspirational music and film that always appeals to me, and I’ve been spoiled for choice on that front of late.
In my formative days on the ‘80s London circuit I recall a venue juxtaposing Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1959 album Time Out with 1973 science fiction Western fantasy Westworld. And it somehow worked, staying with me long after forgetting which band was on that night.
A quarter of a century on, Public Service Broadcasting’s live use of archive documentary backdrop helped re-energise the concept of the music video after the MTV years arguably drained such creativity. And in 2012, the year I first caught PSB’s London Will Take It and Spitfire, British Sea Power (what is it with these three-word names?) gave us From the Sea to the Land Beyond, adding their own cinematic soundscape to evocative footage.
Two years later, we also had King Creosote’s spin on that theme, From Scotland with Love, and since then I’ve witnessed The Magnetic North’s Symphony to Orkney and Prospect of Skelmersdale masterfully blending expressive compositions with poignant moving pictures.
Which brings me to Friday and a snatched couple of hours on a busy weekend, timed perfectly to catch King Champion Sounds, all the way from Holland for a starring role on night one of the wondrous Vernal Equinox Festival in Preston, Lancashire.
Taking on co-promoters Tuff Life Boogie, Concrete Tapes and They Eat Culture’s ‘something new’ Spring theme, we got a UK exclusive, this revered Anglo-Dutch septet providing a mighty live soundtrack for Man with a Movie Camera, a cult 1929 foreign feature and one which any self-respecting student of film should be aware of.
This work-of-art silent documentary by Russian director Dziga Vertov and his wife Elizaveta Svilova (with cinematography by Mikhail Kaufman) seems every bit as fresh and innovative nine decades after its release, the camera techniques and editing as intriguing as its story of sorts, told through ordinary ‘Soviet citizens’ going about everyday lives, at work and at play in Ukrainian cities Odessa, Kiev and Kharkov, as well as Moscow.
It’s far more than pure nostalgia on celluloid though, several composers drawn to add their own soundtracks over the years, notably including Michael Nyman in 2002. Accordingly, you’d think it wouldn’t need a new score, yet King Champion Sounds take it to new heights for my money, filling the sonic gaps perfectly.
Taking Stu Sutcliffe’s approach to live performance to a new high, KCS mastermind and axe-meister Ajay Saggar – a John Peel sessioneer with the bands Dandelion Adventure and Donkey – barely caught our eye, so wrapped up was he in focusing on the big screen beyond.
The same went for Oli the bass player, who along with workman-like drummer Mees proved key to this time-sensitive concept working, while Danielle added further wondrous guitar touches, and brass duo Ditmer (sax) and Chris (trombone) brought further rich colour for this veritable feast on the eyes and ears.
That left vocalist G.W. Sok (former The Ex frontman) to do his performance poetic thing, side-on to the audience, again concentrating on the images throughout, adding real live presence at one moment, yet just another arms-folded movie-goer between verses.
I was soon hooked, ensconced with pint in hand as the band opened the gate on their Ghetto of Eden, one of three highly-emotive tracks from second LP Songs for the Golden Hour, on-screen Odessa waking up to a JJ Burnel-type bass rumble as this left-field collective quickly acquitted themselves to such an ambitious task.
The uptempo, metronomic drive of Orbit Macht Frei and deep-throated throb of World of Confusion – the first of four selections from 2013 debut platter Different Drummer – took us forward with aplomb as the trams transported us to our city workplaces.
For my money, King Champion Sounds seem to be caught somewhere between The Blue Aeroplanes, Can, The Fall, Happy Mondays and PiL, while the horn section brings a brand new Pigbag sensibility. And while that combination might not scream ‘perfect fit’ for this venture, it works … and so well.
Mees and Oli led us from both sides as we ploughed into another highlight, Waiting for Measures, then jerky, quirky, Beefheart-baked The Year 500, while the more dreamy Shouting at the Moon – oh, the irony of our esteemed Low Country frontman inviting this happy breed of indoor festival-goers to reach for the top – gave rise to the brass-heavy splendour of Here We Go Again. Yes, think of The Go! Team covering a medley of The Beat’s Twist and Crawl and Department S’s Is Vic There? Glorious.
As the images kept coming, the breezily discordant Point Blank – the first of two sonic blasts from last year’s To Awake in that Heaven of Freedom – neatly complemented Vertov’s high-energy parade of sporting moments. This time, imagine an X-Ray Spex fitness video, and you’re not far off.
Epic finale Mice, Rats and Roaches took us briefly into a Stranglers-like underworld beneath those Soviet streets before the climax, although the scheduling must have been a minefield for band and promoter alike, and a late start for KCS led to a further theatrical twist, a member of last-on Mugstar tugging at GW’s sleeve towards the end, an animated discussion ensuing before the credits rolled, the angst quickly forgotten and hugs traded. And for me that proved to be something of a microcosm for all that came before and was to follow during this mud-free fest, one oozing with full-on, impassioned indie spirit.
King Champion Sounds followed this appearance with Saturday’s Fallow Cafe stop-off in Manchester, Ajay later adding, “The plan was always to make three albums and take it from there. The first cycle is complete. There will be another one to follow.”
I’m pleased to hear that, and of Friday’s spin cycle apogee I’d say our Amsterdam visitors supplied enough creative Vertovian flair to own the place, their celebration of sound and vision doing all the talking.
To keep in touch with the world of King Champion Sounds, head to their Facebook page via this link. And to download digital copies of their first three albums and new single Fool Throttle, try this Bandcamp link.
With thanks to Ajay Saggar and Chris Trombonist for use of the live images.